Canada: Toronto parish considers unique partner for refugee sponsorship

[Anglican Journal] An unusual refugee sponsorship is underway in Toronto, where the midtown Church of the Transfiguration and staff at Church House, the national office of the Anglican Church of Canada, are considering the possibility of pooling their resources to bring in and support a refugee family in 2016.

At a meeting held Feb. 8, Nate Wall, a postulant in the Diocese of Qu’Appelle currently serving as a lay pastoral associate at Church of the Transfiguration while pursuing doctoral studies at Wycliffe College, spoke to national church staff about how the two communities could benefit from working together on a sponsorship.

He believes it is a natural match: “Us with the stability of the parish community and not terribly far away, with money that we’ve already brought to the table, and a bunch of people really excited…and then Church House, where there might be people who have been looking…for a way to…help in the really substantial part of all this, which is the actual work of resettlement, the full-year commitment to a family.”

Although the plan to join forces is relatively new, Transfiguration and Church House staff have been independently considering sponsorship for some time.

Wall says he had just started his position with Transfiguration when the global refugee crisis, which the United Nations estimates has left almost 60 million people displaced worldwide, was suddenly brought to the media’s attention by the photograph of Alan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian boy whose lifeless body washed up on the Turkish shore Sept. 2. Kurdi drowned while he and his family were attempting to reach Greece.

“I was just getting my bearings in this new community…and immediately I had Facebook messages and people coming up to me in person saying, ‘What are we going to do about this?’ ” Wall says. “What that led to really quickly was a group of people forming around the question of what the Church of the Transfiguration should do.”

While there was some uncertainty about whether Transfiguration would be able to cover the costs of a sponsorship, parishioners set about trying to raise the CAN$40,000 to CAN$50,000 needed to meet the needs of an incoming family in order to start the sponsorship process.

By the beginning of the new year, they had brought in slightly under CAN$20,000.

“That was really great, because it said, ‘We can do this,’ but it also said, ‘Now we have to do it,’ ” says Wall. The diocese of Toronto was willing to chip in some money to help, but, Wall said, “we still knew that we would be somewhere in the range of CAN$10,000 to CAN$12,000 short.”

The church plans to work out the refugee sponsorship process with the Anglican United Refugee Alliance, the sponsorship agreement holder representing the diocese of Toronto.

The idea to invite Church House staff to participate, both in raising money and helping the family settle in when they arrive, came from Archdeacon Michael Thompson, an honorary assistant at Transfiguration who also serves as general secretary of the national church.

“It occurred to me…that there were benefits that each of us might bring to a partnership,” Thompson says, noting that while Transfiguration has a stable community centred around worship and parish life, many of the staff at Church House are very familiar with refugee issues and could bring that knowledge to the sponsorship process.

The idea of involving Church House in a refugee sponsorship first came up in a conversation in summer 2015 between Archdeacon Bruce Myers, who serves as the national church’s coordinator for ecumenical and interfaith relations and is also bishop-elect of the Diocese of Quebec, and the Rev. Jeffrey Metcalfe, a priest in the Diocese of Quebec pursuing doctoral studies at the Toronto School of Theology.

Metcalfe’s research involves studying how the church responds to refugees, and he asked what it would look like for the staff of Church House to get personally involved in that work.

“After that initial conversation with Jeff, I reflected on it and came up with a very short written proposal that was presented to the management team last summer,” says Myers. “For them, it was a no-brainer that we would engage in this kind of activity.”

Myers explains that it is important for church staff such as himself to be involved in the mission of the church as it is worked out in their local context.

“We, at the national office at the General Synod, spend a lot of time trying to encourage the people of the Anglican Church of Canada locally to live the Marks of Mission, to become aware of them, to give them practical expression,” says Myers. “So we figured what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”

Thompson notes that the partnership did not involve General Synod as an entity, but rather was between Transfiguration and staff from various departments, the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund, the Pension Office and the Anglican Foundation, who wanted to participate as individuals.

As Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, put it in an interview following the meeting, “This is not a partnership between a parish and General Synod. This is between, essentially, one faith community and…another.”

Hiltz adds that the partnership is a good opportunity for people working in the national church office to become involved with a local parish.

“We exist for no other purpose than to strengthen the witness of the local church,” he says, speaking of the work of Church House staff. “As we exist to strengthen the witness of the church local, so we also exist to enable the church local to have some sense of what it means to belong to the wider church.”

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