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End Homelessness Now

January 27, 2010 13:25 ET

Totem Pole Will Be Part of Sacred Space at First United Church

Special Ceremony, Saturday, January 30th, 4:00pm at 320 East Hastings Street

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(Marketwire - Jan. 27, 2010) - At First United Church the pulpit and pews have made way for bunk beds in the sanctuary. But as traditional symbols of faith have been removed, new ones are emerging. As a result a specially carved totem pole is to be incorporated in the area where the community meets for worship and collective celebration of faith. Rev Ric Matthews explains, "While this place accommodates up to 300 people per night it also remains a Church – one that includes significant contributions from people who are Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, and post modern atheists." He points out that 40% of the community are from First Nations families and that the building stands on traditional First Nations land. Matthews believes, "It makes sense to try to find new ways to reflect a common spirituality across our different faith perspectives." The pole will be incorporated with banners and other symbols produced by members of the First United community as expressions of personal faith. Rev Matthews says, "Together these symbols anchor and focus the Sacred Space in which we collectively function and worship."

The totem pole has been carved by Bernie Williams (Skundaal) of the Haida Gwai Nation and other First Nations carvers. It will be carried into First United Church and unveiled at a special ceremony at 4:00pm on Saturday January 30th. This traditional Haida pole will be called the "People's Pole". The unveiling ceremony will be conducted by elders and chiefs of the Coast Salish territory and of the Haida Gwai nation together with clergy from First United Church in a spirit of reconciliation and recognition of the diversity of the downtown eastside community.

Bernie Williams, master carver, was the first woman to apprentice under the late Bill Reid. A total of fourteen people worked on this pole, several learning new skills under Bernie's supervision. (Attached photo shows Cody Rose learning new skills).

The pole has an eagle at the top, to represent the closest messenger to the Creator or God and the sky; a killer-whale, as the largest and most powerful in these waters; the bear, for its strength and presence on the land; and finally the grandmother moon, watching over us all. Its message is "together we are one".

Bernie Williams says, "The pole is a gift for the homeless people in our community, and also to remember the murdered and missing women."

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