A morning newspaper announces Canada needs a million more immigrants. And then on the paper’s website, I see a video posted about Steinbach, Man., and I think: “They stole our lead story,” which is about how new immigrants in the prairies are changing our church.
But, as I reflect on it I realize, no, there is a huge difference here. The church, particularly our church, is not as progressive—on a variety of issues—as society at large. If anything, we are far behind in our thinking; and, while it is true church used to lead society as an influence for good, for social justice, for moral consideration, it is equally true that in our time, society tends to lead church in the same things. (While mainline churches, including ours, love to praise themselves for their healing and reconciliation work, we were kicked by outside pressures until we made our apologies. Church response then on that issue, as it is now on other issues, was silence, then denial, then diversion, before finally responding to society’s moral call.)
Our cover story this month introduces Presbyterians to a fascinating development in their own church which most don’t realize exists. But, let me pull back a little first:
I spent a night at the CP hotel in Saskatoon a few years ago. In the hallways, from the women with carts and men with wrenches, I heard a wide variety of accents and languages. Given Saskatchewan’s recent successful efforts to woo immigrants this should not be surprising. Yet we don’t think of the prairies as the hotbed of multiculturalism; the prairies are frozen in some cliché of rural Canada. All those service workers in the hotel, in the restaurants nearby, in other corners of Saskatoon, are then hidden from our view and hence our thinking. Our romance of the prairies keeps us from seeing them.
One other word for that romance might be racism; other variations might include comfort zone, blind spot, and habit. To protect ourselves—you know, the classic church cycle of silence, denial, diversion—we hide behind statistics. For example, of Saskatoon’s near quarter million population, eight per cent are immigrants (as determined by Statistics Canada’s 2006 census); only one percent of the whole population are recent immigrants. (These numbers are already six years old; I visited Saskatoon after 2006.)
So, we feel justified in maintaining our romance of the prairies as free of multi-cultis. And yes that is a form of racism, one that is very popular in Canada, and deeply common in church. After all it was only recently, after 40 years of aggressive immigrations policies, that folks in the big cities realized the pigmented will soon outnumber the pigmentally-challenged. While some of us swarthy souls have lived this reality for decades, most of the rest of the country didn’t notice us till we increased in numbers.
And so it is in churches. We don’t have to change our culture and our habits because statistics tell us the times ain’t changed enough for us to care. But that’s a falsehood, as the lead story this month shows.
Or to put it another way: Even at one per cent, that’s 2,300 people in Saskatoon, mostly under the age of 45, mostly better educated than the locals, unemployed or under employed more so than the locals. And most are from the developing world—some parts of which we know from other articles in this magazine (including one last month and on the cover this month) are sources of passionate Christianity.
In other words, we too need a million immigrants—to revive us, to replace our smug and condescending habits with some Jesus passion. We need as an institution and as a culture to be kicked again and again till we shed some rough skin and are able to breathe again. Till we can stop denying Christ and regain some of our confidence.
As a veteran immigrant let me tell you flatly: New immigrants need the stability of an established church. And we as the established church need to be reminded by society and its newest members what we actually profess and how it is we act on that.