A Journey Into Baptism

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About a week and a bit before my baptism, Rev. Robert asked me if I would be willing to do a little writeup about what led me to the desire to be baptized. I told him I would and began to think a bit more deeply about what led me to make the decision to formally join the Anglican Church and the Christian community. As reinforced by the many congratulations and welcomes I received by my now fellow parishioners at St Mark’s after the baptism service was finished, the welcoming culture of St Mark’s itself was a definite draw to that particular community. Of course, I would not have even reached out to Rev. Robert a few years ago without an interest I developed years prior.

Growing up, I was never raised in a religious context. Neither of my parents are churchgoers and neither would likely identify with a religious tradition in any significant way. This is not to say they were ardent and vocal atheists, but just that religion was not something that was really on the radar. Prior to the last few years, the only time I ever visited a church or other religious space was an uncle’s wedding (I can’t recall the denomination as I was too young to remember, or possibly care), my grandmother’s Catholic funeral, and a baptism of a high school friend in a Foursquare Baptist church.

It was around the time of that baptism in late high school that I began visiting religion chat rooms on Yahoo. I considered myself an atheist at that point (having figured out God and everything at 16, like many teenagers) and would have been comfortable among the New Atheist types like Richard Dawkins and his ilk. Most of the conversations/debates in those rooms were a great way for a teenager to feel smart tearing apart the straw men arguments presented by the various overly-literal Christians that produced them. I, of course, having little experience with religion, gladly accepted the less than robust arguments for God and Christianity as the best ones and judged all of religion accordingly. While I don’t expect a single convert was made for either side, I had least had a good time and was started on the path to the study of religion that has culminated, so far, with my baptism.

After high school, I enrolled in the University of Victoria where I majored in philosophy and minored in religious studies. While I appreciated the rigor with which the various philosophers over the past centuries and millennia dissected their beliefs and ideas with reason alone (or so many claimed at least), it wasn’t until I took courses in philosophy of religion and Chinese philosophy that I was led outside the rigid confines of the Western context. I began to appreciate the different ways of thinking about what is reasonable to believe and on what epistemological frameworks one can justifiably form those beliefs. Going forward in my classes, I would at times get frustrated by the limits of the “purely rational” views on God, metaphysics, ethics, etc. By the end of my degree, I had exhausted my interest in pursuing philosophy and wished that the university had offered a major in religious studies instead of the minor I had to settle for. Here, my mind was beginning to open up to new ways of thinking.

After a brief time at law school, which I happily left after 8 months of biweekly existential crises regarding a future as a lawyer, I was accepted into the Masters of Religion and Culture at Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario. Here, studying various religious traditions and how they interact with the world both in the past and today led me to appreciate religion more fully in general. As well, most of my classmates were religious, including Catholics, one Pagan, a couple Buddhists, and even a self-identified Hindu-Christian (or Christian-Hindu?). The fact that these were all smart, well-adjusted people that I respected may be one of the most important levers that shifted me into religion and ultimately the Anglican church. When I returned to Halifax after completing the program, I began exploring religious traditions in a less-book oriented and more people-and-place oriented way (though I continued to read academic, and sometimes not so academic, books on religion).

If the reader hasn’t figured it out by now, mine has been a particularly academic, text-heavy path, and that hasn’t really ended. I have added a number of books to my bookshelf, but there are three books, though, that I would probably consider the most formative in my move into the Christian Church. The first is The Case for God by Karen Armstrong. My biggest takeaway from that was probably how she identified what “belief” means in the biblical community, where the word evokes more of a sense of trust that the words and actions of who or what you believe in, rather than mere intellectual assent to a set of propositional statements. The minor conceptual shift really opened me up to thinking of belief as being less about the truth value of words as logical arguments and more about the truth in their meaning (think: the letter vs. the spirit). The second and third are Abraham J Heschel’s Man is Not Alone and Teilhard de Chardin’s The Phenomenon of Man. Both books allowed me to contemplate new ways of thinking about how to see God in the world (though I will not claim to fully understand the latter after only one reading as its reputation as a difficult book to read is well earned).

I briefly visited a Buddhist meditation group while in Halifax, but was left unsatisfied. Realistically, I don’t think I gave it enough of a chance, but I just didn’t feel drawn to it. One of the things that eventually drew me into Christianity the most was the Bible’s worldliness, especially the focus on social justice and the richness of the world, in all its flaws, described in the Bible itself. The Buddhist groups I found did not have much of a presence in this way. By this point I had finally finished reading the Bible through, aside from a few proverbs and psalms I skimmed over. This, combined with my past readings and experiences mentioned above, got me interested in Biblical religion, though I first visited a synagogue before eventually testing out St. Mark’s. While I have a significant appreciation for the Tanakh and still enjoy Jewish scholarship and theology regarding it, fitting in to Judaism culturally was too difficult.

It was after this that I began looking more into Christianity itself, in particular the Anglican tradition. There were a couple of reasons I focused on the Anglican church. One, from my studies I determined that the Anglican church struck a good balance between the traditions of the past 2000 years while still being open to change when morally necessary (something I think the Roman Catholic Church is struggling with today). Two, my fiancée’s family is largely Anglican. To find St. Mark’s, I had simply googled Anglican churches around St. John’s and read an entry on Rev. Robert’s blog. I can’t remember what it was about, but I do remember that I enjoyed the tone of it and that it implied that the church would be a good fit for me. From the nature of the sermons and conversations within St. Mark’s as well as its actions in the community, I am convinced that it is. I certainly would not have stuck around a church that did not share the friendly and dedicated nature of St. Mark’s.

After reaching out, Rev. Robert and I shared many chats and books over the last couple of years, eventually leading to my baptism at the beginning of the month. While I fell away from the church a few times and ceased attending, after the third time coming back I figured it was time to take the leap and accept that I wanted to be part of the Christian tradition and seek baptism. Almost one month later I am happy I did so and look forward to further developing my faith, especially when I finally finish my current degree and have Mondays free again for Pub Theology!

By Peter Matterson

Welcoming the Stranger – Becoming Friends: A Special Anniversary

As we mark the first anniversary of the Maatouk family’s arrival in St. John’s from a refugee camp in Lebanon, I want to take the opportunity to thank the parish community (and our friends in the broader community) for your generous support of our sponsorship. When Bishop Peddle called upon the parishes of the Diocese to respond to the Syrian refugee crisis last fall, he expressed his desire to see the first family arrive in St. John’s by Christmas. Little did we know at the time it would be the St. Mark’s parish community who would make his wish a reality.
We launched an appeal at our Parish Fall Gathering, seeking pledges of financial support in the amount of $20,000 and at least twelve people who would provide the social support for a Syrian family to adjust to life here in St. John’s. We were overwhelmed by your generosity as both the volunteers and the required funds were pledged within three weeks. To date more than $27,000 has been donated, which has allowed us to offer support to the family over and above our legal requirement. We also received material donations, such as furniture and clothing, which enabled us to furnish a home for the Maatouk family with very little notice.
As I’m sure everyone well remembers, the 16th-19th of December last year was a very intense few days. I am still in awe of what the parish community in general, and our parish support team in particular, were able to accomplish in such a short time. Yes, we had a few bumps along the road, but we pulled it off. In the face of a humanitarian crisis of a magnitude almost beyond comprehension, we made a difference for one family. I know they will be forever grateful. To the parish support team in particular I am so very thankful for each and every one of you for all you have done, and for giving of yourselves so generously and selflessly over the past year.
I would be remiss if I didn’t extend a special thank you to Audrey Power for going above and beyond in serving as our support team coordinator. I don’t know what we would have done without her weekly coordinating emails. This was over and above the time she, like the rest of us, gave in direct support to the Maatouk family. I’m sure I speak for all of us on the support team in expressing heartfelt gratitude to Audrey. As we head into the new year we will continue to walk with the family as they still have a ways to go in adjusting to life in Canada. It warms my heart that the support team is still willing to continue to support the family albeit as friends rather than as sponsors. I’m certain many of us will have lifelong friendships with Mounzer, Alaa, Mohammad, Nada and Ahmad.
God’s blessing be upon each and every one of you, in the parish community and beyond, who made it possible for the St. Mark’s parish community to live out our Lord’s call to “welcome the stranger” in such a profound way.
Father Mark Nichols is the Associate Priest at St. Mark’s and gave great leadership to the Maatouk familiy support team. 

What Time Is It? Advent 2016

mp9004443361But make sure that you don’t get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-by-day obligations that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God. The night is about over, dawn is about to break. Be up and awake to what God is doing!                                          ~ Saint Paul to the Roman Church

 Ask anyone these days the simple question, “How are you doing?” and you’re bound to get an answer something like “Oh my, I’m so busy!” Still others will say, “I can’t believe how fast time goes!” Everyone seems to be held captive by busyness, everyone seems to be running to and fro, caught up in the day-to-day stuff that none of us can seem to escape. Time, it seems, is a precious resource and we seem to be in short supply.

Sadly, the Advent season only contributes to this sense of busyness. All the shopping, decorating and endless Christmas parties only make life more hectic. Advent today is little more than getting ready for Christmas, not in the sense of preparing our hearts and lives, but getting ready for a day, Christmas Day. But Advent really calls us to reflect on time. Advent is about the dawning of a new time, a new way of keeping time and a reprioritizing of how we use time.

Yes, Advent is a time of anticipation, but we anticipate by slowing down, not speeding up. This slowing down is marked by the lighting of candles each week of Advent. These candles remind us of the purpose of Advent, to mark time both together and in our lives, with hope, peace, joy and love. We slowly retell the story, set the context for what we are to celebrate. Without taking time to remember that without the stories of John the Baptist, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, Simeon, and Anna there is no Jesus story, no Christmas story.

In the older Advent traditions of the church this emphasis on time is even more heightened. As Christians we are called to remember the “four last things”: death, judgment, hell and heaven. Advent took on a more penitential tone, a mini-Lent almost. And while this may be too sullen and bleak for what we know Advent to be today, it still calls us to a different appreciation of time. It reminds us that in Jesus Christ, a new age dawns, old things pass away and we now keep a new rhythm of life. It calls us to reprioritize how we use our time, and like the wild-eyed John the Baptist in the wilderness, it calls us to make preparations for this new way.

So we are left with a question: How do we get ready for the advent of Christ? Not the baby Jesus, but the cosmic Christ who was, who is and is to come, who is always coming. Jesus, who has so shaped our understanding that we mark time differently. Jesus, who turns everything upside down.

What time is it? It’s time to slow down and get ready. This Advent make time for reflection, for love, for opening ourselves up to others, for ways to take part in this new thing God is doing in Christ.

 

Jesus Goes to the Pride Parade?

Pride Parade

It’s a hot summer day. Hotter than usual for a St. John’s summer. Too hot to be doing anything of significance. Definitely too hot to be parading down Duckworth Street and up to Bannerman Park. It’s the kind of day that should be spent in the shade, or a pool, or down on the beach by the cool salt water. But today is not a day for that. There is something more important to do.

For the church, too, there is something important to do. It is Sunday, and Sunday for Christians is important enough. It is our day to gather, worship, hear the sacred scriptures, listen to homilies, eat the sacred meal and be sent back out into the world full of Jesus. Today, at least for St. Mark’s, there is something else to do. It is, after all, Pride Week and the Pride Parade. And for the first time for us, and as far as I can tell it’s the first time for any Newfoundland Anglican Church, we march in the Pride Parade with our sisters and brothers in the LGBTQ+ community.

Our participation in this parade is very significant and a long time coming. And make no mistake that it did not come easily. It’s been years, even decades, in the making. In fact, even 2016 has seen many ups and downs in the journey. In January the Primates of the Anglican Communion censured the Episcopal Church of the US for its stance on marriage equality and the ordination of openly gay and lesbian bishops. Later our own bishops in the Anglican Church of Canada released a statement saying that they felt they could not reach agreement on the motion on marriage equality that would come to the floor of General Synod in the summer. Months of anger, frustration and debate erupted.

As a parish community we also engaged in a four-week long conversation on human sexuality and marriage equality. It was a much needed conversation, and the fact that we were even having this conversation is a testimony to how much we have changed in the Diocese of Eastern Newfoundland & Labrador. The conversation was difficult at times, but in the end the consensus was ‘let’s continue to work toward marriage equality in the Anglican Church of Canada’.

At General Synod uncertainty and division were again highlighted. The first results of the vote on marriage equality showed that the motion had failed. For those hoping for the motion to pass it was like a punch in the stomach, knocking the wind out of our lungs. And as the air rushed back in, returning our breath, so did the anger and frustration all over again. Once again we cried out, “How long, O Lord, how long?” The next moment the whole thing was turned upside down as we heard that there had been a glitch, a mistake. The motion had passed! Just a step, but a big step nonetheless.

All of this is running through my mind as I stand here on New Gower street with the sun beating down on me and those gathered with me from St. Mark’s: a 90 year old in a wheelchair; three preschool age children; a young couple married less than a year; a mom whose own child is coming to terms with their sexuality; an openly gay deacon. People who I know from the wider community come by to greet us and congratulate us on the recent marriage equality vote. As the parade starts and I look ahead at the multitude of people in the parade, stretching the length of Duckworth Street, along with the hundreds that line the street, it’s hard not to get choked up.

Our banner identifying us as St. Mark’s Anglican Church gets a lot of looks. It also gets a lot of cheers and smiles. I even see some tears. It means a lot to those Anglicans in the crowd, those still in the church and those who have drifted away, to see an Anglican church in a Pride Parade. I know that what we are doing is important. It’s hard not to see the significance of it.

Pride 4

But as I look up the street at all the people marching in the parade, and wave at the people lining the sidewalk in solidarity and support, I can’t help but feel a hint of sadness. I think of all the people, our dear gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters who have gone before us and often walked alone. I think of those who never felt the swell of support that is on display today. I think of the teachers that taught in our denominational school systems who had to keep their sexuality secret for fear of losing their job. I think of the young men who have looked over their shoulders when walking our streets late at night for fear of a beating for being gay. I think of the girls who have been told that they are too butch, that they’ll never get a husband looking like that. I think of all those who have been forsaken, even chased from their faith communities because their sexuality doesn’t fit into their congregants’ narrow box of male/female. I think of all those who have the words queer, fag, sinner, abomination thrown at them by priests, pastors and ministers concerned more with orthodoxy than with genuine Christian love. I think of all of those who have been clobbered by bible verses, proof-texts taken out of context and misunderstood. I think of all those LGBTQ+ people who love Jesus and have a deep longing to belong to a faith community, but feel that there is no place for them and they don’t belong. I think of Jesus and the example of love and acceptance he has set for us, inviting all he meets to come and follow him, to walk with him. I think, if Jesus were here today, he would walk in this parade. Then I am reminded that he is here, because we the church, his body, are here.

I think of all those people, and yes I know what we are doing today is important, but what we do today is just one more step in a long, long journey. We have come so far, but we have much further to go. The same can be said of the historic General Synod vote; it is important, but it is not the end. The church has much further to go before we can truly say we love our neighbour, before we have true equality. Let us keep walking together, one foot in front of the other, walking in love, realizing that we are one in Christ.

 

Pentecost, the Uncomforter and the Way Forward on Marriage Equality

PentecostThis weekend marks an important celebration in the life of the Church. In Pentecost we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, the starting point of the Church. In fact for the past few weeks in the lectionary Gospels we have read of Jesus preparing the disciples for the coming of the Spirit, his Spirit. This Spirit, the Advocate, would teach them and remind them of the words of Christ. It would unify them in love for each other, offering an example to the world of God’s presence in Jesus and his disciples.

Our other Easter lectionary readings have been from the Acts of the Apostles and it presents a very different picture of the Holy Spirit. For Luke the Spirit is a spirit on the move. It is a spirit like that which drove Jesus out into the wilderness to face temptation and self-reflection. In Acts the Holy Spirit in constantly drawing the disciples out of their comfort zones, transforming them into Apostles in the process. The Holy Spirit is constantly redrawing the boundary lines of the Kingdom of God, expanding into further and further territory. Everyone is welcome, everyone is loved, whether they are Jew or Greek, male or female, rich or poor, slave or free.

What we do on Pentecost, though, is not just remembering the past. Pentecost is also a time to acknowledge the work of the Spirit in the life of the Church today. The same Spirit that reminded, taught and came alongside the early disciples is still doing the same for us today. The Spirit draws us back, again and again, to the Gospels and what they reveal to us about Jesus. In a changing landscape, where our old maps no longer apply, the voice of Jesus in the Gospels is our compass to help us find our way forward.

The Holy Spirit of Acts is alive in us as well. The Spirit irks, irritates, pokes and prods. The Spirit calls us to draw the circle wide, draw it wider still. The Holy Spirit leads us to love and truth, even when we would rather not go. As Richard Rohr says. “Yes, the truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.” Oftentimes the Holy Spirit is the great “uncomforter”.

We have experienced these two elements of the Spirit in our recent conversation on Human Sexuality and Marriage Equality. Here’s a recap of what we talked about:

 

  • The Bible: We all use the bible to varying degrees, some often and others only in the context of worship.  Our understanding of the bible has changed over time.  We are much more comfortable with multiple meaning in scripture.
  • Change and Diversity: Change can often be difficult, especially in the church.  Change within the Anglican tradition is complicated, with decisions being shared between bishops, clergy and laity, at both the national church and diocesan levels.  The Anglican Church has changed dramatically over the years, for example: the ordination of women, allowing divorce and remarriage, and Confirmation as a gateway to communion.  Change most often comes from the ‘grassroots’ up to higher levels of leadership.
  • Human Sexuality: It is hard to define human sexuality but it is an intimate part of what it means to be a human being created in the image of God.  Human sexuality is complex, especially in our more liberal, Western culture.  The church is only just beginning to find its way through the contemporary reality and complexity of human sexuality.  The conversation, not a debate, needs to continue.
  • Marriage and family: Our understanding of marriage and family has changed over the years. No longer do we define marriage and family as husband and wife, with 2.2 kids and a white picket fence. There are blended families, single parent families, same sex couple with children, multi-generational families, and families with couples choosing not to be married or to have children. Our understanding of marriage and family though still centers on love, trust, commitment and mutual respect. In the church marriage centred on the sacramentality of love as a vehicle of God’s grace, a covenant before God between people who love each other. The example of Christian marriage comes from the relationship between Christ and the church, one of self-giving and loving service. In our discussion we saw no reason as to why all of this could not apply to same sex couples in the church.

We also acknowledged that the way forward will not be easy and we may not get the result we desire from General Synod, and that there are likely those in our own diocesan family who do not share our views on marriage equality. We articulated a need to continue to pray for those who disagree with us and to love and accept them as part of our Christian family too. We acknowledged our own LGBT brothers and sisters at St. Mark’s and the very real hurt and exclusion that they feel. We hurt with them because we are a family. We know that further discussion is necessary as we seek to respond to whatever happens at General Synod and in our own diocese.

We are all left with the question: where is the Holy Spirit leading us? That same Spirit that teaches and reminds us of Jesus’ love and acceptance is still calling us to follow Jesus. The same wild Spirit that knocks down barriers, drawing the circle wider and wider, is still beckoning us deeper and deeper into the love that God has for all of God’s children, regardless of race, gender, class, or sexuality. Are we willing to listen to the uncomfortable call of the Holy Spirit?

Entering Holy Week

blurred Jesus

This weekend we join Christians around the world in entering into Holy Week. In our liturgies on Saturday and Sunday we will, through words, music and movement, follow Jesus from his triumphal entry into the holy city Jerusalem to the suffering of the cross. The change in mood will be stark, the emotion jarring. We are called to follow, to experience the cross. Throughout Holy Week we are also called to enter into the story. We will do this through the Stations of the Cross, foot washing, stripping the altar and solemn Good Friday prayer.

The Passion stories of the Gospels, and in particular this year’s account from Luke, are full of emotion. The story is raw, filled with betrayal, doubt, desperation, injustice and cowardice. They are more than anything else, dramatically human. But as I read and reread Luke’s story I am struck with one question. This question paralyzes me. It makes me want look away, to not see what is happening to Jesus. That questions is why. Why does Jesus have to die? Why is the system so bent on silencing him? Why does Jesus go so willingly? Why do the disciples, his friends, forsake him? Why? Why? Why?

Much ink, and no small amount of blood has been spilled, trying to answer this why question. Some scholars have written at great length of the death of Jesus as sacrifice. Still others have written as Jesus as the great moral exemplar. Most in the very early church saw Jesus’ death on the cross as a victory over the devil. The gospels themselves, though, say very little about the theological significance of Jesus’ death. Jesus himself also says next to nothing about why he must die. I think the reason for this is that the mystery of the cross, the multi layered meaning of the cross, dare I say the scandal and the horror of the cross is just too much to be explained in any one theory. The cross is a mystery to be entered into, to be experienced, not simply something to be explained. More on that later.

If you read carefully the story that Luke weaves (and you can read the whole passion story here), he does have Jesus give us a hint as to why this is happening.

“Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”

For you. Jesus tells his disciples that his death, his broken body and spilled blood is for them. This too is a mystery too deep to fathom and raises more questions than it answers. But for now it is enough to say that in the cross, in the suffering and death of Jesus we see love as God gives God’s life, for us. God takes our biggest fear, death, and lays it bare. In Jesus God shows us the truly difficult way of love, forgiveness and acceptance. In the cross we see that God is for us, always for us, and not against us.

Which leads me to another question that I eluded to earlier regarding experiencing the cross. Can I follow? Now I don’t mean literally. I don’t expect us to go out and get crucified, or lethally injected, which would be the modern equivalent. But if Jesus is showing us something of love, something of what it looks like and what it cost, I have to ask: can I follow? Can we follow? Sara Miles says it’s as if in the cross “Jesus says: this is how you do it.” This is how you love. This is how you serve. This is how you follow me. Can we do it? Can we pick up our cross and follow?

The answer I believe is yes. Yes we will fall. Yes we will doubt. Yes, like the disciples we will run away, and abandon. But like Jesus we will love; like Jesus we will forgive; like Jesus we will care. We will do it because he has shown us how. We will do it as we love each other. We will do it as we welcome the stranger, whether they be from Syria, Eritrea or down the street. We will do it as we work for equality and justice for our LGBT brothers and sisters. We will do it as we feed the hungry, cloth the naked, visit the sick and lonely, and care for all prisoners.

So this week let the story of the cross become our story. Don’t look away but enter in. Experience the great emptying of God. Feel the darkness and the earth fracture beneath our feet. Then, ever so gently, pick up our crosses and follow him.

Audrey Power: This is My Story

audrey&maatouks

My faith journey began on rather shaky legs. My parents were Anglican, but not actively religious so God was not a big part of my childhood. Like my parents, I spent long stretches away from the church, being drawn back for significant life events – confirmations, marriages, births, deaths. As a teen, I found myself questioning who I was, what I believed. I had watched people find strength and comfort in God, blame God for everything bad, and be indifferent to God’s existence. In university, I never found any answers but I learned it was okay to question and seek greater understanding as we traveled.

Both my marriage and my son’s baptism had me take a serious look at where the church and faith fit into my life. I realized I did believe in God, I just didn’t know what that meant. More importantly, I believed in Christ’s teachings to love God and to love one another. If I could just figure out how to follow Jesus in the world we lived in.

Life moved on, and the world showed how ugly it could be – recessions, Chernobyl, genocides, the Gulf War, Los Angeles Riots, Israel/Palestine conflict, 9/11, natural disasters. It seemed different forms of discrimination and hatred increased even as people helped those in need. On a personal level, there were several significant family sicknesses, traumas, and deaths that left me battered. It was impossible not to question God’s presence.

I had begun an on-again off-again relationship with St. Mark’s as my son grew and was confirmed here. I found the welcoming acceptance and friendship offered to all and the many outreach ministries spoke to me of Christ’s command to love our neighbour as ourselves. I began attending services more regularly. Surprisingly for me, I found myself drawn more into parish life – bible study, prayer writing group, Pub Theology. With an open heart and mind, I searched to discover how Christ’s teachings applied in the context of today’s world. I came to believe that the Spirit could lead us to different answers, and we had to respect diversity and accept all people with a good heart.

Last fall, as the pictures of Alan Kurdi made the Syrian Refugee crisis unbearably human, the people of St. Mark’s came together to sponsor a family. It felt so right to join the Refugee Transition Team, to reach out and make a difference to a family. The Advent messages of hope, love, joy, and peace enriched all our preparations – it was deeply moving.

And then we got the call – the Maatouk family would arrive in three days, Dec. 19! The outpouring of generosity, thoughtfulness, love and help from our parish family still brings tears to my eyes. We were truly blessed as we scurried and put a wonderful home together in just two days! As we welcomed them and showed them their new home, I watched their faces light up with happiness and relief, and the children began to laugh and play. They were tired and unsure but their appreciation and hope shone in their eyes. Here was the meaning of Christmas, to give of yourself to those in need, to give them hope. It is indeed the greatest gift of all.

As we celebrated the birth of the Christ child to Mary and Joseph on Christmas, I thought about the wonderful gift God had given this needy world, and the many parallels to this family.

Since then, there continues to be lots of work for our transition team to help them settle and get on their feet. They left their home, everything they had, everything and everyone they knew, out of fear, to come to a strange land in search of safety. As I get to know Mounzer, Alaa, Mohamad, Kater al Nada, and Ahmad, I see the love in this Muslim family. I see children so like children everywhere. I see my neigbours. Learning just a little of what they have been through, I wonder if I could still smile, love, and trust, as they do. We have become friends. They share with me their dreams and hopes for a better life for their family. I know I have a small part in helping them on their journey.

As I help the Maatouks adjust to life in St. John’s, they ask me why we help people, Muslims, whom we don’t know. I answer because it is the right thing to do, because God teaches us to love and help all people. Here, I know I do Christ’s work as I share God’s love with these people, my neighbours.

Of everything I have seen, heard, considered, experienced, rejected, accepted… for me helping the Maatouks embodies what it is to be a Christian in today’s world. This is the message I hear in Christ’s teachings. I believe every time we reach out our hand to someone in need – to show compassion, acceptance and love, every act of kindness, large or small – God is with us, around us, present in us. Finally I know how to follow Jesus in today’s world.