Saint James Anglican Church

Joseph Howe Drive at the Armdale Rotary, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada             


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Message Archive

 

Diocesan Synod 2011

 

Note: This presentation was given at Diocesan Synod, May 28th 2011. The presentation was part of a synod theme intended to help synod delegates make the connection between the local churches with the wider world.

 

Good Morning.

 

Bishop Sue [Moxley] invited me to give a short presentation this morning, describing how the experience of refugee sponsorship has impacted our parish.

 

On September 30th, 2010 our sponsorship group "Partners for Refugees" greeted the Al-Ali family at Halifax airport. The arrival of the Al Ali family, Jamal and his wife Kawla and their two young adult daughters Ruah and As'ma came after a long and difficult stay at a United Nations Refugee camp in Syria.

 

Our arrival at the airport as their sponsors came as the result of a very different kind of journey. What was required was a commitment of one year and funding of just over $26,000 over the course of that year. Our Parish Council initially, tepidly, agreed to participate. Six months later we found ourselves at the airport greeting this family from the other side of the planet. We were there as members of "Partners for Refugees" staffed mostly by people from St. James and St. Mark's, Gottingen St. (they had done this before). Funding and other tangible support came from a consortium of parishes from Chebucto, Ft. Sackville, and eventually Dartmouth Regions together with our diocese and The Primate's Fund. When we arrived at the airport we were in the company of people from the other sponsorship groups. They had already sponsored other members of the Al-Ali's extended family. We were joined as well by members of that extended family. There is time this morning to recount only a few of moments of our transformative journey as sponsors

 

Stewardship Moments

At the outset a member of our Parish Council encouraged us to raise funds for sponsorship by appealing directly to parishioners. He supported his suggestion by immediately declaring how much of his own money he would contribute. He was invited to make an appeal directly to members of the parish at both of our services the following Sunday. Within a week we had over seven thousand dollars in hand.

 

A faithful member of our parish volunteered to chair Partners. As the work has unfolded we have discovered in her a depth of commitment, and wealth of experience with social services, and leadership abilities that have proven invaluable. How could we have not known this about her before?

 

Outreach

We found out that the Halifax Immigration Settlement and Integration Service or ISIS is in our neighborhood literally on our doorstep.

 

We met members of the Middle Eastern Community who were elicited to help with translation and cultural issues. Thus was opened up to us a whole new level of awareness about the Middle Eastern community who are such a significant part of our city.

 

We have gotten to know and work with other Anglicans like those from St. Mark's, and learned things from them.

 

Members of Partners heard first hand about the terror and loss that are part of the lives of so many dislocated people.

 

Evangelism

On Christmas Eve the Al Ali family asked to attend a church service. A couple from our parish that has spent a lot of time with them agreed to bring them (They had been to St. James once prior, but after church for coffee hour). It being Christmas I made the usual invitation that those who are baptized are welcome to receive communion if they wish. That of course was lost on people who did not speak much English and in the midst of the liturgical chaos of the Christmas family service. As the distribution of communion began, one of the Al Ali family members asked their hosts about what we were doing. They explained that we believe that the bread and wine represent the body and blood of Jesus. The members of the refugee family were determined to come up for communion. They had to compromise of course. They could not receive the wine because of their Islamic beliefs; but neither could they see themselves refraining from participating in what we their sponsors appeared to be offering them. It wasn't about making them Anglicans. It was about how they and we tried to find a way to celebrate the common ground we were now standing upon. It was a kind of Book of Acts moment in which people from two distinct groups try to navigate different backgrounds with theological smoothing after the fact.

 

Two years ago our Parish Council invited The Rev. David Hart from Bedford United Church to give a presentation on congregational development. One of the many experiences David shared with us was "take on an outreach project that is almost too big to handle". This project has validated that advice.

 

Our chairperson notes: "I can honestly say that stepping up to help Chair the group has been a blessing. Not only have I enjoyed meeting the family and feeling like a good steward of the parish by assisting this family that had to live in desperate conditions but also it provided me the opportunity to get to know many members of St. James that I only knew "to see" at church. I felt like this opportunity has helped forge great relationships with others who attend St. James. I am proud to tell others about the work that PFR are doing and what a benefit it is to our [sponsored family]".

 

One member of the couple who took the Al Ali family to church shared this: "Working with Al-Ali family has been a very rewarding experience for both [of us]. Being able to help in some small way with a family who have through no fault of their own have lost everything, their home and country and have lost physical contact with other family members. Helping them settle in Halifax makes you appreciate what you have even more."

 

And one of our members from St. Mark's states: "Several parishioners have joined KAIROS as a result of their familiarity now with the Palestinian/Israeli conflict and will be involved as we work for a just resolution to this very serious issue. They attend local meetings and lectures to spread accurate and valid information to the Canadian public."

 

Prophetic Moments

There have been challenges. There have been frustrations on both sides dealing with cultural barriers and culture shock. There are some who feel that refugees are lucky to have been sponsored to come to a country like Canada. However as this article on the Iraq war from American National Public Radio states, the circumstances that create refugees are often not well understood here.

 

"When the United States invaded Iraq ….it didn't set out to deepen the Sunni-Shia divide in the Islamic world. But that may be one of the most important outcomes of the war. American leaders told the nation and the world that the Iraqis would view the United States as liberators, not occupiers, that the war would be over quickly, and that Iraq would return to peace. Those rosy predictions did not take into account the frequently violent and tragic history of Iraq, especially the aspirations of Iraq's often brutalized Shiite majority, says Augustus Norton, professor of Middle East history at Boston University."

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=7411762

 

We are learning now that while the Canadian government did not publicly support the Invasion of Iraq, the government of the day did lend military support to the effort covertly. Our country was not an open participant in the coalition of the willing--just an active behind the scenes secret admirer of it. In actual fact, the Al Ali-family had to flee Iraq because of the social destabilization caused by the Invasion. As ethnic Palestinian Sunni Muslims they became targets for deadly violence when Sadam was toppled. People like the Al-ali family are here in part because of the policies in which our country has been complicit. Luck has little to do with it.

 

My favorite biblical writer from all of sacred scripture is the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah is essentially good news. St. Luke certainly thought so. He casts the preaching of Jesus and the character of Jesus' disciples against the standard of Isaiah's proclamation.

 

"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because he has anointed me….to bring good news to the oppressed…to proclaim the year of the Lord's Favour." -Is. 60:1-2

 

Refugee sponsorship has enabled we the sponsors to incarnate Isaiah's word of good news. We have helped other people in need participate in a measure of jubilee. We have helped free others from a kind of captivity.

 

However, Isaiah was writing for, to, and about victims. For Isaiah the exiles of ancient Israel not only receive good news, but as oppressed people they would herald it for others. So there is, I think, is a parallel layer of application of Isaiah for those of us who involved in refugee sponsorship. It is refugees, folks like the Al-Ali family, who have been anointed by God. They have come to Canada and our to community to bring us good news about the possibility of social justice. They have given us an opportunity to be released from the captivity of our Country's mistakes in the international community. They have given us an opportunity to do what Jesus has asked us to do, and in so doing they have afforded us an opportunity to participate in Jubilee not as mere givers. Our sponsorship of this family has made us recipients and beneficiaries of what is at the core of our own religious heritage as disciples of Jesus.

 

Canon Rod Gillis, Diocesan Synod 2011