We can counter acts of hate

People hold signs that say "we are your friends" and "we stand with our Muslim brothers and sisters."
People hold up signs during a ‘ring of peace’ outside a Toronto mosque in February after a gunman killed six people and wounded 19 at a Quebec City mosque in late January.
 on April 1, 2017
Michael Hudson

Lenten greetings everyone!

As a parish priest, I value the richness of our Anglican tradition. One of the ways that rich tradition is expressed is through the rhythm of our liturgical year. A few weeks ago we celebrated two extremes, back to back. Like many parishes, we gathered on Tuesday for pancakes, sausages, sweet maple syrup and ice cream. The following day when I got to church, I went to the kitchen to put on a pot of coffee. The faint smell of pancakes and sausages lingered in the air as we prepared to begin our journey through Lent.

That night, I led our congregation through the Ash Wednesday liturgy. During the Litany of Penitence, we confessed that we have not loved our neighbours as ourselves. We asked God’s forgiveness “for all false judgments, for uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbours, and for our prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from us.” On the altar lay a shell-shaped bowl filled with the ashes of last year’s palm branches; I would use it to place a small cross-shaped smudge on the foreheads of those who knelt at the communion rail. The irony of joining a symbol of our baptism (the shell) and a symbol of our mortality (ash) was not lost on me.

Later on in the liturgy, the words of the Eucharistic Prayer reminded the attentive listener that our faith is anchored in the God of Abraham, Sarah and Moses. As I drove home after church, I considered all the troubling things I had heard in the news lately. Within the last few weeks, several Jewish homes had been vandalized, not far from where I grew up. The previous night, a mosque had been damaged by fire – a fire being investigated as arson. I thought about how our three faiths shared many of the same stories. It almost seemed as though no one was exempt from these kinds of attacks. I wondered how I would react if my place of worship, or my home, was vandalized because of my faith. How do we as people of faith react when we hear such things?

I am reminded of an old joke that asks the listener if they know how to eat an elephant. Like many jokes, the answer is simple – one bite at a time, just like anything else. As individuals, there are many “big issues” that can seem overwhelming until we break them down into bite-sized morsels. Often, people respond with fear to that which is unknown or different. The solution to these feelings may seem overwhelmingly simple: counteract fear by becoming familiar with that which, at first, seems different; turn the person who is “other” into a person who is “friend.”

Last summer, I enjoyed several long walks with our new dog. During one of those walks, I met a wonderful Muslim family who had just moved into the neighbourhood. The family had two young girls, one of whom is the same age as my daughter. As the girls played with my dog, I was invited to join their picnic. Since then, we’ve exchanged pleasantries; a friendship is slowly developing. As we’ve begun to know each other, my new friends have taught me a few things. Those who were once strangers have become friends.

As we journey together through Lent, I encourage you to build new relationships that will enrich your life experience and knowledge of the world. We can counter acts of hate and violence by building communities of compassion and trust. Together, we can choose to be passive spectators as fear and ignorance impact our neighbours – or can we courageously step out in faith and, in the words our Baptismal Covenant, “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbours as yourself”?


The Rev. Greg Fiennes-Clinton is the diocese’s interfaith dialogue officer.


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