Rev Amber Leonard Schoss was one of three new deacons ordained at our Vocational Deacons’ Ordination service at the Cathedral in May of this year. Amber was ordained as a chaplain to the order of Urban Vision. But ordination has done little to change her very grounded approach to ministry – in fact, the word “ministry” seems somehow inadequate when describing her natural, down-to-earth approach.
Amber and her husband Robert live with two other couples and a group of young people in the former bishop’s residence in Wellington. The young people came to them in need of emergency housing, but Amber doesn’t see herself as an emergency housing provider. “We are not their foster home or their emergency accommodation, we’re their whānau,” she states. In other words, it’s just what she does.
“I’ve always shared my life with others. If there are rooms, we fill them. We talked to DCM and they told us that there was a need for emergency housing for young people.” But once the emergency is over, then what? Amber tells us that her whānau – the young people living with her – are now attending school and training courses, but they’re still in need of that wrap-around support and connection that only a family or a tight-knit household can provide; and thus there isn’t an appropriate form of independent housing that would suit them.
“The situation for the young people we’ve met is complex. There is a need for longer-term spaces.” Amber speaks of her ongoing conversations with Oranga Tamariki, DCM Wellington, and other social agencies working with young people and young adults. She sees a vision of her ideal situation: two adjoining houses – one for girls, one for boys – and a couple of granny flats where the residents can move into, in order to prepare for independent living.
But these are not institutional arrangements, and Amber is quick to assert that a building does not make a solution. “We don’t need an institution – we need more homes and families, and that’s why I’m excited by the Church.” The Church, she says, is a huge network of people that form community, and within that context, have resources available to share. Amber tells us that right now, organisations like Open Home Foundation are desperately short of loving, Christian families who can provide loving support for children who can’t be with their own families, and there are plenty of options for those who aren’t able to foster.
In a way, Amber’s ordination was about creating a bridging link. “What I could see in Urban Vision was a picture of God’s church. It was a confirmation of an existing call. [Ordination was about] belonging: by being ordained, I’m creating a line out to those on the edge. I’m showing them that if I can belong, then they can too.”
It’s also about remembering the gift that the Church has to offer, and that is the ability to bring God into the room, says Amber. “My ordination reiterates that yes, the Church is here, but that God is here – and He is the one who offers people a hope of transformation. We underestimate the creativity of God if we look to our own gifts as opposed to looking at what God could do.”
Amber’s picture of God and of loving community came through her own personal experience. Growing up in a loving family, she nevertheless found herself in state family homes after some harm done by others meant that home was no longer safe for her. The state family homes were not nice places, she says, but she found herself in a girls’ home called Te Whare Atawhai, run by Justin and Jenny Duckworth. “They gave me a picture of love and care, and God, and they lived a faith that changed lives…. I just thought that’s what following Jesus was.”
And when things are tough, Amber knows that she is connected to something much bigger. “Being ordained means I have an accountability and a responsibility to say yes to those calls [from people in need of support]. In the dark nights, you need to have those promises that you’ve made, that ‘yes – I’ll still stand'”.