Theology student presents research on “Meet Me at the Bell Tower” initiative

Graduate Studies

The Faculty of Graduate Studies connected with Theology student Adel Compton to talk about her recent thesis defense.

Adel Compton

Can you tell us about the program you just completed and when you graduate?

I registered for the Master of Sacred Theology (STM) in Applied Theology, Pastoral Care and Counselling, and Spiritual Direction through the United Centre of Theological Studies with the University of Winnipeg in 2010. The Prairie Jubilee Program for Spiritual Direction, and additional UofW course requirements including my Thesis fulfills requirements for my STM degree. I expect to graduate at University of Winnipeg’s spring convocation 2015.

What was your thesis research topic?

My thesis research topic is on the “Meet Me at the Bell Tower”(MMBT) movement begun November 2011. MMBT is a North End Winnipeg Aboriginal youth led spiritual, cultural and political movement focused on gathering local people and anyone who supports the idea of stopping violence in Winnipeg’s North End. There is a weekly local gathering at 6pm at the corner of Selkirk and Powers Bell Tower where each person’s presence is valued as having potential to identify concerns and explore positive local efforts to stop the violence. The young leaders have discovered the goal of non-violence begins with learning how to be non-violent oneself and teach others to do likewise.

My thesis presentation to the United Centre of Theological Studies will happen in September 2014.

How did you become interested in this area?

I am an ordained minister in The United Church of Canada with a deepening awareness of the need for healing and reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in Canada.  I was employed by North End (Stella) Community Ministry from 2009-2013 in “Two Paths One Journey” ministry respecting Christian and Aboriginal traditional teachings as equally valid spiritual foundations. I have significant experience with adult- led children’s and youth groups in the church and community. However, I had never before seen a youth created, youth led self-sustaining community movement generating hope and positive community solutions while affirming spiritual traditions. I wanted to know what Meet Me at the Bell Tower could teach the church and the wider community about new forms of spiritual, cultural and political community building.  

Recent news reports suggest the positive change in Winnipeg’s North End in terms of lowered incidence of crime is the result of increased police presence. That is only part of the change that I see unfolding. Reclaiming traditional teachings, participation and leadership of young Aboriginal men and women voicing the need for positive change and collectively inviting others to partner with them is raising hope in this community. This shows that a better quality of life for Aboriginal children and youth and everyone living in the North End is not just possible but is happening with youth leadership committed to create long-term sustainable health and wellbeing for the community. When local people learn their traditional teachings support non-violence, see current violence related to the loss of culture/spiritual teachings and take steps to live with the respect ancient teachings affirm, they collectively shape positive change. The youth feel and see positive change happening in the North End that police statistics measure annually. Since MMBT began in 2011 police statistics confirm a steadily lowered incidence of crime.

What would be the next steps for you, or another researcher, continuing with your work on this topic?

More research is needed to identify if Meet Me at the Bell Tower is transferable to other contexts. Also, more research is needed to identify similar movements among aboriginal youth.

Given Canada’s history negating the wisdom of Indigenous peoples by outlawing traditional teachings, breaking up familial and social support systems, and silencing their voices, these Aboriginal young people demonstrate the ancient teachings remain relevant and are instructive to raise hope for all people.  

With the opening of the Human Rights Museum in Winnipeg, I wonder if the emerging spirit in Winnipeg’s North End could help to transform Winnipeg into a living laboratory for non-violence. Our Aboriginal youth could help adults learn how to live with hospitality, respect and non-violence providing foundations for peace and wellbeing for all citizens in 21st century pluralistic Winnipeg.

What do you intend to do, now that your program is completed?

I will continue to share this research through academic and church presentations and possible publications. I will share the University of Winnipeg’s website link to help disseminate my research.

As Regional Director Spiritual Health Services I see the lack of understanding and respect for traditional teachings and Aboriginal peoples reveals a lack of knowledge about the truth of Canada’s history as experienced by Aboriginal peoples. The emotional legacy of residential schools named by Aboriginal youth as impacting daily violence in the North End has not been taught in most Canadian education curriculums. The links between this emotional legacy and poorer health, reduced mortality, high suicide rates, high incarceration rates, poverty and violence for Aboriginal peoples needs to be better understood by health care providers delivering health care and planning for long-term solutions.

The example of the North End Aboriginal youth seeing contemporary gaps as opportunities for positive change offers an invitation to partnerships with public institutions to address the whole complexity of circumstances that must be addressed for long-term positive systemic changes ensuring equal treatment for Aboriginal peoples as well as settlers/newcomers.

Any other thoughts you’d like to share?

I will seek to create more safe spaces for conversations with people of other spiritual traditions or of no spiritual tradition to collectively discern long-term strategies for respecting diversity and raising hope for peace and wellbeing for all our children.

There is an idea for Winnipeg to have a site, “The Garden of Compassion,” where respect for all spiritual traditions on Turtle Island could help educate us all about common hopes and common threats to those hopes. This could be a place where my recent studies and my work with Winnipeg Regional Health Authority as Regional Director Spiritual Health Services could intersect.


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