Leaving a ministry close to my heart

Called the Toronto group, these Sisters live from Huntsville to Pickering. From left, Sisters Elaine Hogan, Karen Bennett, Margo Shafer and Joanne Colligan


As the Congregation moves forward in our plans for the future, I have been asked to replace a Sister who is going on a well-deserved sabbatical. I will be taking on the sacristy and hospitality duties that Sister Catherine Casey so generously has done for many years.

To do so, I will be leaving a ministry I have been part of from the beginning. I was one of the first board members who formed the charity The Meeting Place Centre for Growth & Healing. The goal of the Meeting Place Centre is to provide mental health support for people on low incomes who are dealing with the effects of emotional trauma or abuse. We became incorporated with charitable status in 2003.

In the beginning it was very slow and difficult as we were such a small charity. We struggled to find enough finances to keep us going but we had faith and hope that the Lord would provide for our need. The charity was Toronto-based at the start, but served people in Gravenhurst, Bracebridge, Peterborough and Toronto. We were told we were too widespread when we applied for government grants, so we centralized.

In December of 2006, executive director Marie-Louise Bechthold and her partner Karyn Gilchrist bought Still Point retreat centre in Huntsville, from renowned facilitator Marge Denis. Over the next year, the charity and I moved to Huntsville too.

With limited resources, it was a learning curve to support clients with mental health challenges. In the beginning we did not have a timeframe for counseling. The more apparent the demand became, the more we realized we needed guidelines. We knew short-term counselling was not enough so we put in place weekly sessions for the first year and bi-weekly sessions for the second, as long as we had the funds to provide the service. It has proven to be a good method.

I am often the first contact for anyone wanting counselling. I spend a lot of time on the phone. It is amazing how many times I have just listened to clients when I call to remind them of their therapy appointments. I believe that is part of my ministry. Sometimes it matters just to have a friendly voice that helps when it’s a rough day.

I think of Mary, who used our services until her timeframe ended. Unfortunately, her mental health challenges were great and she did not have the support of family and friends – I still keep in contact with her so she knows she is not alone. Many times I help by just being there for her, listening to her on the phone so she can talk about what is bothering her, instead of bottling up and becoming sick.

I was a little heartbroken about telling her that I am moving to Kingston, as I knew she was going to feel abandoned and alone. I also knew that she needed time to process the news and be able to say goodbye. I spent a September afternoon with Mary in the hopes of telling her that I am leaving Huntsville, but I didn’t get a chance. Her troubles were too big that day. We spent the afternoon talking through her concerns. In the end, I called her when I returned to Huntsville, and gave her the news that way. I will still keep in contact with her but it will not be as easy to be there for her from a distance.

I have done all the behind-the-scene operations in my own quiet way – calling clients, mailing our application forms, collecting auction items, sending out fundraising letters and reports to doctors. All the data entry fell to me, such as cataloguing donations, preparing income tax receipts and getting the financial information ready for the accountant. As part of my ministry, I also prepared the food and material for our monthly retreat for women.

I have given my all, to the best of my ability, to support this work. The hardest thing for me was knowing that I could only do so much. The best I could do for the clients was to listen to them and pray for them daily.     

I am sad and sorry to be leaving this ministry and the small community of friends that have been a part of my life for the past nine years. I will also be leaving my small cell-group of Sisters in the Toronto area. It has not been easy to get together because of the distance between us but we always manage to keep connected by phone or email. I will miss Sisters Joanne, Elaine and Karen and I thank them for all their love, support and prayers. I am grateful to my Congregation for allowing me to do this ministry for the last 14 years and who for supporting me in this work.

I ask God to give me the grace and strength I need to be open to returning to the Motherhouse in Kingston and all the changes expected with our land. I do not find change easy, but I also know that I have a loving community that will help me to make the transition and support me in my efforts to grieve and move forward.

Sister Margo Shafer (left) beside the executive director and other friends of The Meeting Place Marie-Louise Bechthold at a fundraising event