January 2016 The plight of Syrian refugees is striking a cord with people of faith in Thunder Bay. However, many churches struggle with the prospect of raising the tens of thousands of dollars necessary to provide sponsorship support.
Now, in a unique, ecumenical effort of like-minded folks, the members of several United, Anglican and Lutheran churches in the city have organically gathered together to create a sponsorship consortium.
It's been a word-of-mouth venture: a chance meeting of two people at the Salvation Army Christmas kettle at a grocery store; an inquiring email between people at different churches wondering how to get this off the ground.
Starting with a meeting on a cold, dark January night, the group has held weekly meetings to hash out a plan to bring eight refugees to Thunder Bay.
The individuals who attend these meetings have agreed to form what the federal government calls a "Constituent Group". They'll be responsible for providing the day-to-day support for the refugees when they arrive. The churches sit in the background, providing a pool of volunteers. Even raising the money is the responsibility of the new Constituent Group, now called the "Inter-church Refugee Committee". The responsibility of each church is to encourage its members to make those donations and to fundraise. None of the money comes from a church budget.
It will be "each according to their ability" to donate. The funds raised within a particular church are not reported to the Committee. From our treasurer, we only get the current total raised collectively by all the churches.
To date we have raised over $12,000. That's enough to make the formal application to accept the eight refugees we've set as our target.
One of the churches has agreed to be our banker so we can pay our monthly bills for the 12 months the Committee is obliged to support the refugees under federal government's rules.
We are now putting together our pool of volunteers. Each of the participating churches will be soon getting a large sign-up sheet for volunteers to indicate their area of interest: housing; employment; health; education; banking and finances; family and day-to-day life.
The Committee is also working on city-wide level to link up with other "Constituent Groups" in Thunder Bay. The city's Multi-Cultural Association tells us there are more than a dozen similar groups up and running.
The goal is to do joint training from experts in the area of refugees. For example, one of the concerns is to avoid "infantilizing" the refugees, that is, making them too dependent on the Constituent Groups. The Inter-church Refugee Committee is also hoping the outreach effort will help foster a new community of Syrians in Thunder Bay.
Word of the Inter-church Committee's efforts is spreading. New partners are making inquiries weekly. All are welcome. When all is said and done, the Committee could have representation from nine or more churches of various denominations. We'll keep you posted on our progress.
Those interested in joining can call the office at Trinity United Church on Algoma Street. The phone number is: 345-5621. Or email me at :
Shane Judge, chair,
Inter-church Refugee Committee.