Church serves migrant farm workers

Group of people sitting on bleachers.
St. John’s parishioners and migrant workers enjoy a softball game in Ajax during the Pan Am Games.
 on September 1, 2015

Men accept invitation to worship

The Rev. Christopher Greaves used to see the small yellow bus arrive in downtown Bowmanville on Friday or Saturday evening. The bus brought migrant farm workers into town so they could do their banking or shopping. Mr. Greaves, who is the incumbent of St. John, Bowmanville, often tried to welcome them, but his lack of Spanish made it difficult. Most of the men were from Mexico and spoke little English. “I’d say ‘Hola’ and that I’m the pastor of the Iglesia Anglicana, but that’s as far as I got,” he says.

He contacted the Rev. Canon Ted McCollum, an Anglican priest who leads a ministry to migrant farm workers in Beaverton, Ont., and was put in touch with the Migrant Workers Network. The group provides support and advocacy for about 17,000 workers in Ontario each year, most of them from Mexico and the Caribbean. There are about 300 workers at the farms and greenhouses around Bowmanville.

Mr. Greaves joined the network as a representative of the Bowmanville Ministerial Association. He attended a number of meetings and learned that the same men often came back year after year, working from June to October on local farms.

The group was looking for a venue to hold a welcome event for the men in June. The event would not only welcome the men but would provide them with information about local health services. Mr. Greaves offered to host it at St. John’s.

Working with Mr. Greaves was the local Baptist pastor, Gordon Belyea, an avid cyclist. They learned that the workers needed transportation, and that having bicycles would be a great advantage for them. They asked their parishioners and handed out flyers at the town’s street festival, seeking donated bikes.

“In one month, we picked up about 30 bicycles from all over, including Oshawa, Courtice, Bowmanville, Newtownville and Newcastle, most of which have been repaired and given away,” he says.

The welcome event was held at St. John’s on June 6 and about 16 workers attended. At the event, Mr. Greaves met workers from Jamaica and Barbados and found that a number of them were practicing Christians. They expressed an interest in coming to church, so the next week they were given rides to an ecumenical service in Bowmanville. About 10 of the workers have continued to come to church each Sunday, getting rides from members of the congregation.

“We’ve really enjoyed the contact we’ve had with these fellows,” says Mr. Greaves. “They’ve asked for prayers and we’ve prayed for them. They’ve joined our church family in worship on Sunday. One man plays piano before and after church with great gusto. If there is some reason they can’t come, we understand and keep in contact with them throughout the week.”

The church has held lunches and barbecues for the men and even taken them to a softball game at the Pan Am Games. Some of the men are mechanically minded and help to repair the donated bikes after the Sunday worship service.

In the fall, the men will be working Sundays, so the church is thinking of holding a Caribbean-style service on Saturday evening. The church would also like to hold a harvest celebration in late September or early October to thank the men for all their work. The men invited the church to a party they are hosting at one of the farms.

Mr. Greaves says his congregation has been energized by the new relationships. “In the last 10 years we’ve led teams on mission trips overseas, but here is the world coming to us. It’s been good for our congregation to engage in local mission as Jesus’ disciples. We have been blessed to move beyond our normal boundaries and grow as a community of compassion, social justice and hope, and to deepen our understanding of the command to love God with all we’ve got and love your neighbour as yourself.”


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