Churches set fear aside, open hearts

The Anglican
 on April 1, 2016

Despite initial concerns, sponsorship takes off

The Rev. Matthew McMillan waded into the refugee sponsorship process at one of the busiest times of the year – Advent and Christmas. “I often thought, ‘What the heck are we doing?’” he recalls.

Some of his parishioners at St. Peter’s, Churchill and St. John’s, Cookstown, had concerns as well. They were worried that raising funds for refugees might impact Christmas givings or take away from other work that needed to be done.

As it turned out, they needn’t have worried. Not only did they raise enough money to sponsor a refugee family, they learned something about their faith as well. “We served God by not listening to fear but by focusing on hope and compassion,” says Mr. McMillan.

St. Peter’s and St. John’s have been working with the United churches in the town of Innisfil, located south of Barrie off Hwy 400, since last fall. Together they have raised about $30,000, with more coming in each month. They’ve launched a Facebook page and a Go Fund Me website so that people in the community can give and participate.

The churches have formed a support team to arrange things like housing, schooling, translation, ESL classes, job training, health care support and transportation for the family, which is due to arrive in the spring.

Mr. McMillan says the steering group has taken a low-key approach to fundraising. “We simply presented the case,” he says. “We highlighted the need and gave people an opportunity to respond. It was honest and gave people the ability to decide whether to be part of it or not.”

Some people in the wider community were critical of the plan to sponsor a refugee family, saying that relief efforts should begin at home with the underemployed or poor in the local area. It’s a comment that has been heard by other churches in the diocese.

“What we were able to say was, our churches already do those things,” says Mr. McMillan. “We have food and hamper programs that support children and families. We’d like to try to help everybody, and we do it at different times in different ways. With the refugee crisis, there are folks who have nothing. If we could all contribute just a little, it would go a long way.”

One of the most important decisions that was made early on was that St. John’s and St. Peter’s didn’t try to do it all on their own. Mr. McMillan intentionally reached out to the other churches in the area. “I said, if we do this together, it will lighten the load and we can also do a little bit of ecumenism in our own backyard in an easy and life-giving way.”

It worked. The partnership between the Anglican and United churches energized parishioners and gave them a way to help. “The hearts and minds were already there,” he says. “It just required someone to step out and lead and pull it together. I think that’s what the churches can do. We don’t have to do it all. But if we can provide some pieces and building blocks and synergy, the people in the community and the pews are wanting to do God’s work and good things.”

He says it was important that the steering group learned from others but stayed true to its own context. “We heard what other churches were doing and we tried to learn from their story but not to recreate it. We tried to incorporate some of that into our plan while at the same time adapting it to local dynamics.”

He adds: “Don’t feel you have to do it on your own. There are many people who have done it before. It’s easy to do – it just takes time and energy and resources and a willingness to be out there where God is so that we can be served as we serve.”


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