Why Refugee Sunday?

Photo: Annie Spratt


By: Marlene Smith

Earlier this year the Primate, Archbishop Linda Nicholls, issued an invitation to dioceses and parishes across the country to mark a Refugee Sunday at some point in the lead up to World Refugee Day (June 20) or at some other time in the year.

In 2016, the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) circulated a questionnaire to its members asking a series of questions about if and how “Faith” has played a role in the work of its members. The responses were varied and powerful:

I think faith in a loving God supports a commitment to kindness and social responsibility. My personal response to the needs of refugees is a direct result of seeing news reports depicting tremendous brutality. I had to do something to counter that anger and violence.

Faith played a big role in our decision to sponsor a refugee family. Our church wanted to do something and not just say that “someone” should do something with regards to the refugee situation that we are witnessing every day in the news.

When the questionnaire was issued in 2016 the worldwide numbers of refugee and displaced people stood at 65 million. Today, in 2024, that number stands at over 100 million. In other words, the number of “strangers” seeking safety, refuge, and a place to call home, has grown exponentially.

At our baptism we – or our parents on our behalf – are asked a series of Baptismal Covenant questions: “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbour as yourself?” and “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” We respond: “I will, with God’s help.” Those two questions, along with the others posed in the Covenant now find expression in the Five Marks of Mission of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

The Anglican Church of Canada, through the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF), has been responding to refugees and displaced persons ever since its founding in 1959. The following year was declared World Refugee Year by the United Nations and PWRF (the “D” was added in 1969), earmarked $100,000 of the $162,000 raised in its first appeal for refugees overseas. In partnership with church-based and secular refugee-serving agencies, that work continues to this day.

In 1979 in response to the Indo-Chinese “boat people” crisis, the Canadian government established the Private Sponsorship of Refugees (PSR) program. Anglican dioceses were among the first to respond. Today, 15 dioceses across the country are Sponsorship Agreement Holders (SAHs) with Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). Those SAHs are managed by a tireless, expert, and gifted group of Refugee Coordinators, some paid, others volunteer. In the 45 years of the program approximately 350,000 have been sponsored to settle in Canada through faith-based, ethnic, and secular SAHs – Canadians reaching out to their global neighbours and saying: “You are welcome here.”

As noted, these are ministries carried out not simply because of what Anglicans say we believe, but because of who we say we are. They are fundamental to our identity as Anglicans, and fundamental to the ways in which we live out our faith. But unless your parish has undertaken a refugee sponsorship, much of the ministry by PWRDF partners overseas and Refugee Coordinators here in Canada is done quietly and away from the view of Anglicans “in the pew.”

Refugee Sunday is an opportunity to affirm what we believe and who we are. It is an opportunity to learn about, and lift up in prayer, those who carry out these ministries and all those who have been forced to flee their homes, either as internally displaced people (IDPs) in their country of origin, or as refugees in neighbouring or distant lands. It is an opportunity to affirm the many gifts we receive when we welcome the stranger: gifts of friendship, of insights, of skills, knowledge, and wisdom that refugees bring to share with us. And it is an opportunity for us to be transformed together. As another respondent to that 2016 CCR questionnaire wrote,

One of our core values is Mutual Transformation, the recognition that we are diverse, and that through an effort to listen well, we learn and grow. Living closely with refugee claimants has enriched our community’s experience of faith.

To which we can all say, Amen.




Marlene Smith has been the Refugee Coordinator for the Diocese since 2020 after Gail Schnabl “retired” in March of that year. This volunteer position functions under Missions and Ministry. The Diocese has a legal Agreement with the Federal Government to sponsor refugees for re-settlement to Canada under the Private Sponsorship of Refugees Programme – one means by which Canada expresses it’s humanitarian tradition. It fulfills the actions of “loving our neighbours as ourselves” and “welcoming the stranger” as the church – the Body of Christ – seeks to live in relationship with each other. It is an experience that begins with a meeting of strangers, engaging with people we would probably never meet in our lifetime, then developing a friendship of compassion and care when the refugee-newcomer arrives. It is truly faith in action. Marlene currently worships at Holy Trinity Anglican Church, downtown Winnipeg.


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