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Parishes rally to support refugees

By Martha Holmen

When the photo of Alan Kurdi appeared in newspapers and on screens in early September, people around the world were united by a desperate desire to help. In the Diocese of Toronto, parishes are responding to the crisis, faithful to a decades-old tradition of supporting refugees.

For St. Matthew, First Avenue, the global attention was followed in early October by long-anticipated news. After a six-month wait, the Canadian government had matched the parish with a Syrian family, parents and their three-year-old daughter.

The Techtonics, a British a capella group, perform at St. Anne, Toronto at a concert in support of AURA on Sept. 18. Photo by Michael Hudson
The Techtonics, a British a capella group, perform at St. Anne, Toronto in a concert in support of AURA on Sept. 18. Photos by Michael Hudson

“It is exciting news,” says the Rev. Catherine Sider Hamilton, associate priest at the parish. “We are so grateful we are able to help in a situation where there is pressing need, grateful to God for blessing this work so abundantly, and grateful to all the people and churches who are walking with us.”

St. Matthew’s started the sponsorship process in September 2014. After a year of fundraising, the parish had already raised the $27,000 needed up front to support a family.

Parishes and individuals across the diocese have been eager to help. The Parish of Minden-Kinmount has donated the monthly earnings from its thrift shop for a year, along with a gift up front. Likewise, St. Augustine of Canterbury in Scarborough has worked with St. Matthew’s to organize local fundraising events.

Individuals with no connection to the church or the diocese have also embraced St. Matthew’s efforts. The parish has received substantial donations from people who learned of its efforts online or, in one case, by walking in off the street. “This process has knit us together with the neighbourhood, the church community and the non-church community in ways we never expected,” says Ms. Sider Hamilton.

Trinity Church, Aurora has found similar connections in its neighbourhood. The parish started considering sponsorship two years ago when it was looking for joint projects with Aurora United Church. The two congregations share a worship space.

“We thought that we had found a home together, and we could get together and help a refugee family find a home too,” says the Rev. Canon Dawn Davis, incumbent at Trinity.

The partnership soon grew to include a local Muslim mosque also interested in refugee sponsorship. “We very quickly said yes. We didn’t even hesitate,” says Ms. Davis.

Ian McBride, executive director AURA
Ian McBride, executive director of AURA, speaks at the Techtonics concert.

Trinity Aurora and its partners are one of many groups that have connected with the Anglican United Refugee Alliance (AURA) to learn about sponsoring refugees from all parts of the world.

“The calls are just flying in,” says Ian McBride, AURA’s executive director. “Many parishes are banding together, sometimes ecumenically or with other Anglican parishes. It’s happening all over the place.”

While St. Matthew, First Avenue expects its refugee family to arrive in three to five months and other groups continue to wait, they share the hope that their plans are making a difference.

“There are so many refugees worldwide, and we’re only helping one family right now,” says Ms. Davis. “But you make efforts where you can. You start.”


Other parishes are responding to the refugee crisis in various ways:

  • St. Anne, Toronto held a concert in support of AURA.
  • Many parishes, including St. Clement, Eglinton and St. Paul, Bloor Street, are discussing plans to sponsor refugee families.
  • St. Giles, Barrie is taking up a special collection for PWRDF.
  • St. John, West Toronto is raising money for PWRDF, writing letters to politicians and looking to support a congregation already engaged in the sponsorship process.
  • St. Saviour, Orono sent representatives to an AURA information session on Sept. 26.
  • All Saints, King City, Holy Trinity, Thornhill and All Saints, Collingwood are collaborating ecumenically with other area churches to sponsor a family.
  • The Anglican Church Women group at St. Francis of Assisi has donated to PWRDF.

Financial gifts can be made through FaithWorks to support AURA and PWRDF (the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund), which is working with other agencies to provide food and emergency aid to displaced Syrians. To donate, fill out the online form  and designate AURA or PWRDF as the recipient of your gift.