Pastors from six Arabic-speaking congregations in the Presbyterian Church in Canada held a retreat in Winnipeg in May for spiritual refreshment and mutual encouragement.
The congregational leaders, whose churches are spread from Montreal to Winnipeg, are concerned about building sustainable ministries into the second generation. Teenagers and 20-somethings born in the Middle East quickly learn English and want to worship in English; however, they want a context that appreciates the Arab ethos and culture.
These congregations, therefore, become bilingual almost immediately.
The congregations draw from a large number of Arabic-speaking countries, being made up of Egyptians and Syrians, Jordanians and Lebanese, Iraqis and people from the Emirates. In these congregations, loyalty to homeland gives way to a commitment to being the church of Jesus Christ across national lines.
Those gathered spent time in study and prayer, telling the stories of their congregations, sharing ministry struggles, and gaining insights into Canadian Presbyterian culture. Peter Bush (minister at Westwood, Winnipeg), who spent some of his growing up years in the Middle East, spoke about Canadian Presbyterian history, paying special attention to the mission impetus that drove the church in the late 19th century, the First Nations story, and the impact of Church Union in 1925.
Syrian refugees and other refugees from the Middle East were a topic of conversation. The pastors are being called on to provide translation and cultural awareness support to Euro-Canadian community groups and congregations that have sponsored refugees. As well, some government sponsored refugees have turned to the Arabic-speaking churches for help in navigating government services, medical appointments, and emotional and spiritual support. The six congregations are, in order of their age: Chapel Place Church in Markham, Ont., (led by Nagi Said and Freddy Saleh), the Arabic Church in Montreal (led by Samy Said), Almanarah, Mississauga, Ont., (led by Sherif Garas), Almanarah, London, Ont., (led by William Khalil), Almanarah, Hamilton, Ont., (led by Amin Mansour), and Lighthouse Evangelical, Winnipeg, (led by Ibrahim Zabaneh).
The group hopes to make such gatherings an annual event. The gathering was funded by a grant from the Ewart Endowment for Theological Education.
Photo by Evgeni Zotov via Flickr (Creative Commons)