Diocesan refugee response has been widespread
By Gisele McKnight
It was the image of a baby boy's body washed up on a lakeshore in Turkey that galvanized the western world to act on the issue of Syrian refugees. That was last September, and in response, Bishop David Edwards issued a call to action on the crisis.
"As Canadians we have a worldwide reputation for our care of others. As Christians we are to "love our neighbour as ourselves." Now is the time to act," he said. "Therefore, I am asking every congregation and each Anglican to in some way support organizations working to resolve the refugee problem in the Middle East and beyond."
Because the diocese does not have a federal sponsorship agreement, the bishop suggested partnering with the Atlantic Baptist Convention, which does have an agreement with the federal government. They hoped to bring in 50 families.
Part of the bishop's own response was to appoint the Rev. Christopher Ketch in the Parish of Kent as the diocesan refugee response co-ordinator.
Here is the result of the call to action within the diocese. Much of it is ecumenical, where church members from different denominations are working side-by-side to bring about positive change in the lives of some of the most vulnerable people on earth.
Archdeaconry of Fredericton:
- A Jan. 16th information meeting was well attended. "We agreed that it will be best to seek blended sponsorship of a two-to-four member Syrian family. We will be doing so under the Baptist Convention's Sponsorship Agreement," said Archdeacon Patricia Drummond. "As an archeaconry we hope to raise $30,000. This may be more than needed but we believe it is better to have a small surplus than too little money. Our next step is to form a smaller committee with one representative per parish, decide on a chair, secretary and treasurer, and assign committee members to be responsible for specific areas of need. "We will be holding a public meeting in the near future and are hoping to have someone who has already had experience of sponsoring a family to speak and also a representative from the Multicultural Association of Fredericton (which is providing much help to groups like ours in areas such as language.) We are also beginning to complete the paperwork needed to enter into a blended sponsorship agreement and will be setting up a bank account. There is much help available in the Fredericton area in terms of clothing/furniture banks, assistance in getting medical needs covered, bus passes, and interpretation (some 50 potential interpreters have been identified). The group was enthusiastic and we are very hopeful that the money we require will be forthcoming, whether through fundraising or through personal donations."
- Christ Church Cathedral polled its congregation, with these results: "The congregation's most frequent answer to the Mission Committee's survey about refugee sponsorship was to join with other parishes to sponsor a family. Efforts are under way to do so! The cathedral is joining forces with 10 other Anglican parishes to bring a Syrian family of four to our area. An application is being prepared and, as we get more details, announcements will be made about opportunities to volunteer; to donate money, furniture or food; to help support and settle the family. Your prayers are appreciated."
- Parish of Douglas and Nashwaaksis: St. John the Evangelist has partnered with nearby Saint Theresa's Catholic Church to support a family of seven - parents in their early 30s, with boys aged 11 and 9, and girls aged 10, 8 and 5. This family is from Homs, Syria. They are awaiting word on the family's arrival date. Members are also discussing ways to support a government-sponsored refugee family already in the city.
- "In the Parish of Stanley, we are participating with 10 other parishes in our archdeaconry in applying to sponsor a family through the Refugee Sponsorship Certificate of the Baptist churches," said Ann Wetherilt of the parish. "In our rural village, we have up to 20 women who have for many years met every Friday morning at our local restaurant for breakfast. The gathering is open to any woman in our area. Recently we were surprised by the sudden closing of our restaurant but decided to take advantage of the void to raise a little money toward our commitment to support sponsorship of a refugee family. We invited members of the Breakfast Club to meet in the home of a St. Thomas parishioner on the Fridays in January, and to pay what they would ordinarily pay for breakfast. All proceeds go to the refugee project. Members from our community - from our Anglican parish, from other churches and from no church at all - have been very generous, not only in their attendance but also in contributing food items towards the meals and helping with setting up, cooking and cleaning up. In addition, we have decided to contribute part of the proceeds from our February fund-raising dinner to the project."
- Parish of Prince William: St. Clement's is working with the Nackawic-Area Refugee Support Group under the sponsorship of the Nackawic Baptist Church. Members of St. Clement's are part of a group of 40-50 local volunteers, including Nackawic High School's World Issues class, that are fundraising and organizing to welcome a family of five, including three school-aged girls, in early March. The congregation is working on a household supplies drive and the ACW gave a monetary donation.
Archdeaconry of Kingston and the Kennebecasis:
- Parish of Renforth: "We have partnered with Kennebecasis Baptist Church and have made a financial commitment for 12 months. We also have approximately four people volunteering at the newcomers centre," said Eric Phinney, Rector of Renforth.
- Parish of Hampton: "St. Paul's is part of a coalition of local churches, community groups, and concerned citizens working to welcome three families to our region. We've made application. We're busily preparing their accommodations and now it's just a matter of making our way through the huge demand for refugee families. So far, every time we get chance to connect with a family, another sponsorship group gets there before us, which in a way is a good problem to have because it means lots of people are actively welcoming these families," said the Rev. David Turner.
- Report from the Parish of St. Mark's (Pat McCaig), working with CARS – Community Action for Refugees Sussex: "In September, considering the global humanitarian crisis with refugees, especially those from Syria, a small group from our parishes decided to investigate what it would entail to help a family relocate to our community. We discovered that the Convention of Atlantic Baptist Churches was licensed as a Sponsorship Agreement Holder with Citizen & Immigration Canada, and that they accept interested partners or constituent groups who would like to sponsor refugee families. We were in touch with another group from the community that was exploring the same things. >With approval from vestry to be the supporting charity, we joined forces and began CAR-S. We called a public meeting for Nov. 17 to determine if there were others in the community that were pursuing the same purposes and to judge the support we might expect. We had a turnout of approximately 150 people, and the response was very positive, both in terms of financial support and donations of goods and services. On Dec. 4th, we officially applied to the Convention of Atlantic Baptist Churches to accept a family. As of the writing of this report in January, we have been matched with a young family. We expect their imminent arrival to Canada within the next few weeks. As the response from the community has been very favourable, it is hopeful that we may have the resources to sponsor an additional one or two families. Although our first family is expected to be from Syria, there is no guarantee that additional families will be of the same nationality. We extend heartfelt thanks for the opportunity to work on this project, and for the support that we have received both from the congregation and the community."
Archdeaconry of Moncton:
- Parishes of Dorchester and Sackville: The ACW at Trinity Church in the Parish of Dorchester gave $500 to the Sackville Refugee Response Coalition, which has raised over $100,000 from individuals, community organizations and churches to bring three refugee families to Sackville," said the Rev. Dr. Ranall Ingalls. "The first family will be brought through the United Church, the second through a Baptist Church, and the third through the Presbyterian. The Parish of Sackville has also contributed to the SRRC, and some people who do not worship in the parish have made their contribution through the parish for income tax purposes."
- From the Parish of Hillsborough and Riverside: John Whitmore has been on the front lines in south-east New Brunswick. Here is his report. "Fortunately, several small churches and one larger one were in the same boat. I got together with a couple of the Baptist and one United minister and we set up a 'Southern Albert County Refugee Team' which could act as an agent for these churches, as well as being visibly open to those who are outside the church. Now we have 14 small rural/village churches and one larger one collaborating. The challenge was to put up $600 each over the 12-month period of our obligation, for $8,400 total, plus the $4,000 that came from Hillsborough Baptist. And then there are the other donations of money from a variety of individuals. We are close to being okay. The estimated cost for a family of 4 is $7,000 to start up, and about $20,000 to run, depending on government help. But the family we have committed to support actually has four boys, so there will be another $2,500 or so. The federal government will contribute half of the running cost, so we are obligated to find $11,000 of running cost and any start-up costs. So far, our start-up costs are negligible, but we are taking on a rent on Feb. 1, so our expenses will begin to add up. Furnishings are collecting well, but we need new mattresses. We do have a decent apartment for a very good rent. Language is an issue, but we have a couple of interpreters to get us going, and there is a surprising number of people with EAL experience available. I have spoken to some of the high school boys whom I know about getting together with the new guys and playing a lot of soccer or B-ball or teaching them to skate or doing other active things that will allow them to learn to communicate as they go along. I have been to the mosque in Moncton, and there is good communication there. This is an ecumenical project that includes eight small Baptist churches, two United, one Roman Catholic and three small Anglican churches."
Archdeaconry of St. Andrews:
- Parish of the Nerepis and St. John: The Cozy Corner Clothing Exchange donated a truckload full of clothing to the efforts going on in Saint John.
There are, undoubtedly, additional parishes and churches in the diocese that are working toward the same ends whose information did not arrive in time to include in this story.