I was the piano player for our worship service at St. James Anglican church one Sunday last summer, just as we were hearing and seeing nightly reports about refugees arriving in Greece on overcrowded boats. The songs for the service had been picked ahead of time, but I had thought that our congregation could benefit from learning “What Does the Lord Require?” (lyrics by Albert Bayly and tune by Erik Routley). In our worship services, new songs are sometimes sung before the service. I introduced the song (#293 in Psalter Hymnal, 1987, and found in many other hymnals) by referring to “doing justice” in connection to the horrific stories about refugees.
When it came time for the New Testament reading, our friend Gillian read the lectionary text from James 2:1-10 slowly, with expression but without histrionics. The connection between dismissing the unimportant in James’ church audience and current history jumped out at me.
Ken, our lay reader, commented on Mark 7:24-37 and its relevance to James 2. He finished his sermon by reading the James text again, from The Message. Again, slowly and clearly: letting the text speak rather using it.
‘Show no partiality’
After the service was over, I was impatient to talk with friends Paul and Esmé. It appeared that they wanted to talk to me, too. In a union of kindred minds we said as one, “We should do something for these refugees.” We looked around at the fellowship hall of our rather small congregation and said, “We could almost do this with just the people here.” Paul suggested that I check the paperwork about refugees and call him back. I tried looking at the website from the Government of Canada. Just as I was becoming discouraged by the daunting legal babble, I heard that a “group of five” in the town of Smithers, population 5000+, had already begun the sponsorship procedure.
Paul and Esmé, Betsey and I talked this over and decided that we should not try to do a sponsorship with our congregation but join and support the group already started. Like that group, we did not want to limit compassion to Christian refugees. Like that group, we wanted the project to be community-based. So we contacted them and pitched in.
When our church congregation’s guiding committee met, we joined them to inform them of our actions, about the local group, and how the worship service had moved us to become involved. “Do you want us to approve what you are doing?” someone asked.
“No, we were wondering if the congregation would want to give some sort of formal endorsement of the local refugee project.”
Said and done. Before the week was up, the local congregation committee had scheduled a soup and bun evening fundraiser, which was widely advertised in the community. When the day came, the fellowship hall was packed, information about the project and prayer was shared and then the meal began. (For those who are used to city life, this information: one of the items on the menu was grouse soup, the grouse having been provided by one of the church members who is a grouse hunter.) The event raised more than $13,000. A “Get-to-Know-Syria” night raised about $14,000 more. At present the fund stands at $81,000.
The first refugee family will arrive in February and March. This family has relatives in Smithers, B.C., already. A second family will arrive as soon as the paperwork is finished; the process has been speeded up considerably in the last month.
Rich in faith
This project allowed us to work with people who are not professing Christians, to pray with them and perhaps to demonstrate that the exclusivist, narrow Christians we hear about in some places in Canada and the U.S. are not necessarily representative of Christ’s body. I think all those working on the refugee sponsorship project have gained respect for each other.
Christian worship stimulated at least the four of us – Paul, Esmé, Betsey and me – and many more in the congregation towards this project as a desire to do justice. Might we have joined the sponsorship group without that Sunday worship? Who knows? Like the blind man Jesus healed, we testify to what we have experienced: “One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”