The Greenaway-Robbins: Mark, Simeon, Ana (the baby), and Ruth. (Kath Lawley photo).

"The love with which we have been accepted here at St. James' has been overwhelming. We are quite a crowd to accept with our noise and rambunctiousness - and we keep growing."

I grew up in a parish not so dissimilar to the parish of St. James’, in inner city Walsall, about ten kilometers from Birmingham, U.K. It was a place of great ethnic diversity; the majority of the population was Bangladeshi Muslim, living alongside Sikhs, Hindus and Christians. However it was also an area of great poverty, row after row of terrace houses with little modernization. Immigrants were living together with the original working class of the area.

What I wasn’t aware of at that young age was the drugs and prostitution. As a child I called the prostitutes “the beautiful ladies” because to me they were, dressed up in their skirts and heels with faces full of makeup. This was all set against living next to the great Anglo-catholic church of St. Michael’s and All Angels where my father was the priest.

As I sit here reflecting on the past year I am often drawn to those early years in Walsall and how my children – Simeon, who is 5, and Ana, now three months - will view this place in 27 years time.

It’s been an amazing year since our entry into Canada. We’ve had fun exploring Vancouver and a little of BC. We have clocked up a few visits to Whistler, the Sunshine Coast, Vancouver Island and the Okanagan. Simeon and I have taken great pleasure in meeting up with new friends and playing in all the wonderful playgrounds and parks. We truly love living here in Vancouver and more importantly in the Downtown East Side and at St. James’.

The love with which we have been accepted here at St. James’ has been overwhelming. We are quite a crowd to accept with our noise and rambunctiousness - and we keep growing. First Bear and now Anastasia.

Poor Bear, our wonderful dog, didn’t have an easy life to begin with. When we were searching for our perfect pooch we never thought we’d find a dog like Bear. One important thing the lady who ran the animal shelter said about Bear was, “I feel very bad about Bear, all he has wanted since he has been with us is human company and we just haven’t had the time to give it. You will be able to offer this, won’t you?”

Well if there is one thing Bear has had since being here, it is Human Company. Before the arrival of Ana I used to walk Bear at around 6:30 am. There would be quite a significant line-up at the Salvation Army. It took so long to walk down this stretch of street because Bear would not pass these people until he had greeted each one. He would wag his tail and let everyone pat him. He felt it his duty. One thing I do know is that he would bring smiles to the faces of those who stood in those lines.

People in the parish may have noticed that our Simeon loves to talk. I have to admit as his mother I get a bit worn down with his constant chatter, but I was once brought up short by this.

One day I got onto a bus at Main and Hastings with Simeon and a visiting family member. Simeon trundled on and took his favorite seat. He soon turned on his knees and began to chat as usual with the gentleman behind. He was quite persistent and the man soon engaged with him.

Our family member was quite embarrassed and kept suggesting to Simeon to leave the poor guy alone. But no, Simeon was on a mission! Our stop came and we began to alight and I thanked the gentleman for putting up with Sims. The man said to me “No, thank you, you’re the first people to talk to me in four days.” I have never felt so humbled. I stumbled from the bus in tears and gave thanks for Simon for his gift of conversation.

One thing about us Greenaway-Robbins is we don’t do things in half. First a move to a foreign country, new job, a new baby and Anastasia’s rather eventful birth. After that difficult week in hospital with Ana, I was so glad to finally be coming home.

Mark pulled up outside and we went through the door with our precious bundle. As we introduced Ana to her home we became aware of music and realized it was the choir concert. We opened the back door into church to hear it. Mark poured my first gin and tonic in nine months and we sat and listened to the choir sing “Rejoice in the Lamb,” as I held my darling girl I was never more grateful to be home at St. James’.

It is all too easy when living in the Downtown East Side to become hardened and unaffected by what is going on around you. But since the arrival of Ana here at the Rectory, both Mark and I have had this incredible sense of all these people once being the children and babies of someone, who were once and still are as vulnerable as newborn babies. It takes me back to those prostitutes of my childhood. These people truly are the beautiful ladies and gentlemen of the Downtown East Side. Sometimes it takes a child’s eyes to see them, but they are truly there.

Ruth Greenaway-Robbins’ husband is Mark, rector of St. James,’ Vancouver. This article first appeared in Cornerstone, their parish newsletter.’