St. Luke’s Table carries on after fire

By on December 1, 2022

Following a devastating fire on Oct. 11, St. Luke’s Table hopes to be operating from a temporary leased storefront location before the end of the year.

The fire caused major damage at St. Luke’s Anglican Church in Ottawa, forcing the temporary closure of St. Luke’s Table facilities in the church basement, where there was widespread water damage. The next day, staff from the Anglican day programs were already outside the church providing breakfasts for the people who normally came to St. Luke’s Table for hot meals and a variety of other supports. 

Participants were also immediately invited to The Well, a sister agency in the basement of St. John the Evangelist, that normally serves only women, where they could get meals and access to showers and laundry machines, as well as help navigating the social service network and health care system.

“The reason we’re able to do this and pivot so quickly is because of our lockdown COVID experience,” explained Rachel Robinson, the executive director for the three Anglican Day Programs in Ottawa — St. Luke’s Table, The Well and Centre 454. The three separate Community Ministries of the diocese began working more closely together during the pandemic when COVID hit in March 2020. It took a couple of months to work out what to do and to acquire a van, she said. “But because we did that, we were able to do it literally the day after the fire. We responded so quickly because of what we learned through COVID. And even the pooled resources from the three programs, that wouldn’t have happened as easily when there were three separate agencies.” 

A story in the November issue of Crosstalk announced the launch of the merged programs under a new collective brand, but the fire has delayed that launch.

Robinson said that Joel Prentice, director of property and asset management for the Diocese, was negotiating a lease on a storefront property in the neighbourhood of St. Luke’s that can be used while the church and the St. Luke’s Table space is restored. 

In the meanwhile, Robinson said participants from St. Luke’s programs “are struggling with not having a space to connect with staff and connect with one another in a social way. We are doing our best to support them.” Many of them are going to The Well, in the basement of St. John the Evangelist (Somerset and Elgin), while others are going to Centre 507 (another day program in Centretown United Church) and some have even gone to Centre 454 on King Edward. 

“They are having their basic needs met in terms of getting a meal,” said Robinson, noting that the laundry machines and two showers at the Well are in constant use. (The basement location of St. Luke’s Table had recently been renovated to expand the kitchen and add showers and laundry facilities. 

“But it’s that social connection and breaking isolation and loneliness that is the hard thing without a space because people live in a room, literally a room, that could be 10 feet by 10 feet with a single bed and no communal space in the rooming house. So you really want to go out, like we all do…. And the day programs provided structure to many people’s days, so that’s the thing I would say people might be struggling with.”

The storefront spot won’t have a kitchen or other amenities that the church basement had. Robinson said they would find a way to provide a meal, perhaps with food cooked and delivered from the Well. But the focus at the storefront location will be on social connection and recreation. “It is going to be more like a community centre. We’re calling it a café at the moment, where people can come and sit and connect. We’ll still do some social work, referrals to other agencies, if someone comes in and needs to be referred to a housing worker,” for example, she said.

The staff and usual participants at The Well are coping with the change. “It’s hard to navigate, and a few women are unhappy that there are men here, which is totally understandable, and we want to protect a safe space for women 100%,” said Robinson. “We’ve got two rooms that we are using where women can go if they want to be…. It’s not ideal, no one would pretend that this an ideal situation. Many women are actually fine and comfortable, and in fact, quite enjoy having a mix and a change. It’s a bit more lively, there’s more people to socialize with.”

The staff, she said, “are doing an amazing job. They are really responsive and flexible, but everybody is very tired.”

St. Luke’s battered by fire, Oct. 11

According to a statement issued by Bishop Shane Parker on Oct. 12, the fire broke out in the east transept of the church, causing extensive damage to the sanctuary and nave. “Fortunately no one was injured; unfortunately, the building cannot be used by the congregation or the day program any time soon,” he wrote.

The timing of the fire made the loss more poignant. The congregation’s 150th anniversary was Oct. 16, including 100 years in the building itself. “Bishop John Chapman, who has been providing pastoral leadership to the congregation in a period of intentional discernment, quickly arranged for them to meet on Sundays in the Chapel of All Saints Westboro until the way forward becomes clear.” 


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