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Elaine Bishop has received the YMCA-YWCA Women of Distinction Award for Community Volunteerism.

Elaine Bishop has received the YMCA-YWCA Women of Distinction Award for Community Volunteerism.

MCC worker receives award for commitment to peace-building

Amanda Thorsteinsson
June 19, 2009

WINNIPEG, Man. -- Over the years God's call has taken MCC worker, Elaine Bishop, from the wilds of northern Alberta to cosmopolitan UN meetings in Geneva, Switzerland.

On May 6, in Winnipeg, Bishop received the YMCA-YWCA Women of Distinction Award for Community Volunteerism. The award was given in recognition of a lifetime dedicated to exploring the potential for peace in her community and the world.

A commitment to peacebuilding was instilled early in life, says Bishop who is currently in an MCC Manitoba assignment as director of the North Point Douglas Women’s Centre in Winnipeg’s impoverished North End.

“I am required to stand up for what I believe,” said Bishop. “That’s what was modeled to me by my parents.”

Of British origin, Bishop’s father served in the Royal Air Force and her mother worked as a nurse in World War II. Her mother’s wartime experiences led her to believe that violence is never justified, and she quickly became a conscientious objector.

When the family immigrated to southern Ontario from England in 1951, they were drawn to the Quakers. Through this involvement, Bishop began to develop beliefs about the call to peacemaking and justice. From there, connecting with the Mennonites was an easy step.

Aboriginal justice issues are a longtime passion for Bishop. Her first placement as an MCC Service worker was with the Lubicon Cree in northern Alberta from 1992-1996.

That assignment was the chance to answer God’s call. Several years earlier, as coordinator of Canadian Friends Service Committee (CFSC), Bishop was arrested for her support of the Lubicon Cree when they blockaded an Alberta highway as an impassioned plea to draw attention to land rights.

“As a person of faith I had no alternative,” said Bishop. “There isn’t the luxury of not responding.”

And Bishop’s response to the challenges of her faith has taken many forms. At the request of the Lubicon, she represented the nation at the United Nations Social Summit in Copenhagen. She also represented CFSC at the Working Group on Indigenous Peoples in Geneva, Switzerland.

As she completes her fourth year at the North Point Douglas Women’s Centre, Bishop continues to regard the poverty she encounters in her daily life as a faith challenge.

“We are called to live in right relationships with God, creation, and our neighbour. Poverty is a consequence of abusing these relationships.”

While the responsibilities of being an executive director are heavy at times, it is nurturing such relationships with women in the Point Douglas community that provide joy and sustenance for Bishop.

“I see Jesus in every person that comes through the door. It is often the little things that give me the most joy--when a mother brings a baby in, or just sitting with someone and seeing them.”

Currently in its 33rd year, the Women of Distinction Awards are prestigious and given out annually by the YMCA-YWCA to honour local women who have made outstanding contributions to their communities and are inspiring others to do the same.

Past recipients of the Women of Distinction Awards from Manitoba include prominent businesswoman and philanthropist Gail Asper, author Carol Shields and television personality Sylvia Kuzyk.

Amanda Thorsteinsson is a writer for MCC