Three incidents of racist graffiti written on a church’s property in south Etobicoke have brought local citizens together and created opportunities for ministry and advocacy.
About 40 people showed up at St. Margaret, New Toronto on Nov. 17 to help the church clean up its property after a man wrote the graffiti on a shed behind the church building on three separate occasions in September and October.
The volunteers included neighbours, local merchants, teenagers and parents with young children. One concerned citizen offered to write a cheque on the spot to install security cameras to help make the area safe.
“I was so moved,” said the Rev. Jacqueline Daley, interim priest-in-charge of St. Margaret’s. “They had read about the incidents in the newspapers and wanted to say ‘absolutely not in my community. We’re going to come together and send a message that this does not define us.’”
Ms. Daley says the incidents have opened up conversations in the parish and wider community about racism. “The list of connections and phone calls and people opening up to express themselves has really blown me away,” she says. “I’ve always believed that love is so much more powerful than hate. It always brings out the best in people.”
She said she was stunned when a long-time parishioner, Sharon Williams, first showed her the graffiti on the shed on Sept. 6. “When I first saw it, I literally lost my mind,” she recalls. “Of all my years in Canada – I grew up in Toronto – I realized I had never seen the N-word written anywhere. It hit me at my core.”
Ms. Daley, who is black, thinks the graffiti was prompted by her recent arrival at the church. “It’s supposed to incite fear and terror, and it’s a reminder of the painful history of black people in this country,” she says. “It’s part of our history of racism, exclusion and injustice.”
After the graffiti was painted over, the man struck again in early October and then again on Oct. 28 while Ms. Daley and the congregation were inside the church at their Sunday morning worship service. The man was chased away and has been identified but, as of Nov. 23, police had not made an arrest.
In addition to cleaning up its property, the church has started a social justice committee and is looking at ways to improve safety in and around the building, including the installation of security cameras, lighting and secure access. Noelle Richardson, a specialist in diversity and inclusion, was invited to speak to the congregation shortly after the first incident. She encouraged the congregation to use the incident as a catalyst for positive change and neighbourhood engagement. As well, Ms. Daley has also spoken about the incidents and racism in her homilies.
“This has been such an education for me,” she says. “It has affirmed to me that we in the diocese have a problem that we need to address. It has opened up a lot of conversations that we cannot ignore. I think it’s an opportunity for us to go and do some ministry and intentional work of engagement.”
In response to the incidents, the diocese’s College of Bishops asked Bishop Jenny Andison, the area bishop of York-Credit Valley, and Bishop Peter Fenty, the area bishop of York-Simcoe, to take a lead in consultation with Brother Reginald Crenshaw, OHC, in drafting a list of things to be done when a hate crime is experienced by a parish. In the near future, the diocese will also be looking at developing a policy that addresses the dismantling of racism.
“Unfortunately hate crimes are on the rise and we need to equip parishes for how to deal with them,” said Bishop Andison. She visited St. Margaret’s immediately after the first incident to meet and worship with the congregation, leading prayers for both the parish and the perpetrator.
“We named the graffiti for what it was – hate and evil,” said Bishop Andison. “As Christians we’re called to be light in the midst of evil, and we prayed about how we can do that.”