The Rev. Leonard Dyer

Several years ago, on Christmas Eve morning, I was working in my office, and looking down from my fourth floor window, I noticed a male’s legs awkwardly pointing out of our parking garage emergency stairwell exit.

I went to see what was wrong and I found that the man was dead. He had died from hypothermia after falling asleep. There was a half-empty jug of red wine at his side. This is a reality when people cannot keep warm. The image never left me.

As deacon at the Church of the Epiphany, I can’t help but notice that a lot of street people and homeless in Northern Surrey (which is my beat) need a hand to keep warm. There are no provisions in Surrey for many of the essentials for the homeless, and there is some antagonism to them from high levels. Agencies have been bucked in their efforts to provide.

At the beginning of October, I encouraged an initiative at our parish for the knitting of toques to be given to homeless and needy folks. I dubbed the mission, “Operation Top Hat.” By the end of November over 130 toques had been knitted by members of the congregation, and by some other people as well who knew of our initative. More toques are being knitted.

Some of our people have gone out with me into the streets at night in small groups of three and four, and handed toques out to people one-on-one. This means that our parishioners have had the experience of dealing with street people and being in relationship with them, even for a short while. I didn’t want to merely give the toques over to an agency, but wanted to relate to our neighbours in the community who are homeless, needy. I didn’t want to be isolated from them.

This initiative has meant that we have visited the Front Room, which is supported by the diocese, and also the NightShift Ministry, a night time food and clothing distribution ministry that provides prayer and spiritual care when appropriate. Our Epiphany “night-helpers” and I have built a relationship with these facilities and with some of the people that visit them.


The Rev. Leonard Dyer with a toque for Roy Brown on a cold night in January. (Photo by Amanda Wilson)

We hear a lot about the negative side here in Surrey. I would like to emphasize the positive. Our parish is stepping to the plate and helping. It is now going beyond toques, as people have been coming forward with coats, scarves, and blankets, which we are giving to people at the Front Room, or at evenings on the streets to night people.

We recently gave a toque to a person while he was being “interviewed” by an RCMP officer, after asking the officer if we could help the gentleman. The officer welcomed the gesture, and another head was warm!

In another instance, a woman was walking the streets, scantily dressed, our offering; a woolly scarf and a matching beret-like toque. In another case, we offered, but sadly, there was no willingness to receive.

I feel committed to letting people know that it’s a Matthew 25:40 experience: “Inasmuch as you do it to the least of these, you do it unto me.” This applies to our night helpers, the people of the parish, and the people we are helping.

The proclamation of God’s Presence sometimes is in the small tangible offering in the cold and dark of night.