Reflections by the Rev. David Sherwin, Presbytery Minister, Ottawa Presbytery of the United Church of Canada
[A PDF version of the following reflections may be had by clicking on this link.]
Our worship today recognizes the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. While we pray at this time every year for greater unity among all Christian churches, we also celebrate the ways in which we experience unity already. One of the ways we find unity is through shared mission to those most in need. Despite our differences, we often act together when united by a common purpose.
This year, given our government’s commitment to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada, and the overwhelming support for this goal from Canadians across the country, we thought that it was appropriate for the Christian Council of the Capital Area to lift up the work that so many of us do, together, to sponsor and support refugees. Christian churches have been involved in refugee work as long as there have been churches in Canada, both informally, and in an organized way as Refugee Sponsorship Agreement Holders with the Canadian government. Our Christian ministry to provide sanctuary and support to those most threatened by war, persecution and violence is long-standing, wide-spread, and deeply-felt.
There are established ecumenical groups in the region supporting work with refugees, including the Interchurch Refugee Group, whose spokesperson is Margaret Richardson, the Kanata/Stittsville Refugee Group, whose spokesperson is Grant Dillenbeck, and Refuge NOW in Bells Corners, whose spokesperson is Bridget McNeil. So, in the present moment, thousands of compassionate Canadian citizens, wanting to do something to help Syrian refugees but not knowing what to do or how to do it, have been able to find experienced, skilled partners in their local churches.
I am going to share just a few examples of the many, many ways that our churches are working in unity with one another and with other groups in Ottawa, to sponsor and support refugees.
A community group that includes Trinity Anglican Church, Quakers, Colonel By Residence and Lawrence Cumming have had a Syrian arrival.
In Old Ottawa South, St. Margaret Mary Roman Catholic Parish (SMM) and the neighbourhood Community Group (CG) will join forces to create a new group, the Old Ottawa South Refugee Support Group (OOSRSG). The purpose of the OOSRSG is to take all actions necessary to support a refugee family, with the support of the Catholic Centre for Immigration and other agencies.
St. Matthias Anglican Church last February committed to sponsoring a refugee, and set about raising the money for this. In the process it partnered with the Ottawa West Rotary Club and in less than a year have with their help raised the money, and staffed the resources to bring a family from Iraq to Canada. “Our forms are submitted and we are simply waiting for the family to be cleared to join us. In the process of setting up our welcome teams we also accepted volunteers from the wider community. They did not have to be parish members, but simply people willing to work with us.”
Another story is that the Anglican Church, who, as one of only a handful of sponsorship-agreement holders in the City of Ottawa, decided last autumn to set up the possibility of outside groups sponsoring refugees through its agreement. To that end two agreements were drafted in order to allow outside groups to partner with the Anglican Church. The two agreements outline the terms of the relationship and essentially are designed to ensure that a sponsorship, once taken on, will be properly funded and supported by the outside group. This has enabled the Diocese to expand the number of refugees it can sponsor. To make this more possible the Diocese is in the process of looking for at least temporary funding to hire an employee whose work will be coordinating refugee work on behalf of the Diocese and outside groups.
The United Church, working with Ottawa Jewish Services and Ottawa Centre Refugee Action, has12 sponsorships, 450 volunteers, nearly $200,000 already raised.
Introducing Our Speakers
Pierre Chetelat will, briefly, tell the story of the ecumenical refugee work initiated by the Ottawa Mennonite Church. And Augusto Leon Lugo, a refugee from Columbia, will tell his own story of leaving his homeland and arriving in Ottawa as a refugee.