'Christ Has This Ability to Bridge Cultures': Diverse Church Is Radiant, 'Like Stained Glass'

By Sison, Marites N. | Anglican Journal, April 2006 | Go to article overview

'Christ Has This Ability to Bridge Cultures': Diverse Church Is Radiant, 'Like Stained Glass'


Sison, Marites N., Anglican Journal


(First of a two-part series)

IT IS MONDAY, 7 p.m., and the lights are still on at the offices of St. Timothy's Anglican church in Agincourt, a diverse community in Toronto's east end.

In a corner of the main entrance, a group sits in a semicircle--the conversational English group that members have dubbed "The English-Speaking Corner."

"So, what did you do this weekend?" Les Birmingham, a parishioner, asks a group of five, mostly new immigrants from mainland China; another parishioner, Peggy Perkins, joins them.

"Let's begin with Jackson," says Mr. Birmingham, facing the person to his left who is in a neatly pressed suit. Jackson Gao says in a soft voice that he is finalizing the closing date for a condominium that he and his wife have bought. The group is delighted; the closing date is an auspicious time, Jan. 29, the Chinese Lunar New Year.

Linda Zhang, the youngest and newest in the group, says she's ready to begin Grade 10.

"Tell us about the fashion show that you're staging," Mr. Birmingham, who has a gentle but engaging voice and a kind face, prods Ms. Zhang. She says, shyly, that the fashion show is for the coming Chinese New Year celebration, which St. Timothy's and the United church are organizing at a church hall.

Mention of the festivities makes a bubbly young woman named Annie Huang pine for traditional foods prepared during this holiday. Lei Zhou, seated beside Mr. Gao, says she has the perfect recipe for a rice-based dessert Ms. Huang is pining for. "You can cook that?" asks Ms. Huang. "Oh, I can do anything," said Ms. Zhou and everyone laughs.

It is Johnny Luo's turn and he says haltingly that he is still busy looking for a job. "It's hard," he says. Ms. Perkins asks him what he used to do in China.

"Telecommunications," he responds.

The conversation shifts to a more serious tone, back to the reality of what brought them to St. Timothy's: some help to navigate a new culture and environment while struggling with limited English skills.

Mr. Gao was an engineer in China but cannot practice his profession. He and his family survive on some savings and his income from odd jobs; his wife was a successful obstetrician and gynaecologist but since coming to Canada, she has only.worked in a factory, explains Mr. Birmingham. "Oh, she has been laid off," interjects Mr. Gao. She has enrolled in an English as a Second Language (ESL) class with the hope that demolishing the language barrier would bring her closer to practising her profession again someday.

They know the odds, they all say, of being newcomers to Canada; but they're here to stay and that's why they go to St. Timothy's on Monday nights. But they have come not just for the chance to practise English with devoted volunteers like Mr. Birmingham and Ms. Perkins and occasionally with the parish priest, Canon Patrick Yu, who was recently elected suffragan bishop of Toronto, the first of Chinese (and Asian) descent in the Anglican Church of Canada. They come, they say, because they feel welcome. "They say to me, You're the first people from mainstream society that showed an interest in me,'" says Bishop-elect Yu, who also speaks Cantonese. "They expect the Chinese to be friendly to them because we speak the same language and (have) the same culture. But many were moved that somebody would go out of the way to include them."

Elsewhere across Canada, this same hospitality is being extended by some Anglican parishes, which have been transformed into multicultural, multi-ethnic churches.

In Victoria; the parish of St. Saviour's incorporates Spanish hymns into its liturgy, owing to the presence of a parish priest originally from Colombia, and a large Latino immigrant community, which worships alongside 24 other nationalities and the longtime Anglo-Saxon Anglicans.

St. Matthew's church is another thriving inner-city parish in the diocese of Rupert's Land which has a mix of aboriginal, Caribbean-Canadian, Anglo-Saxon, and since 2003, Sudanese members. …

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