The Stranger At Our Gate

 on March 4, 2024

For … I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked, and you clothed me … When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? These words from Matthew 25 have taken on clearer meaning to the parishioners of St. James, Dundas this winter. Hidden among the newspaper stories of rising rents and the increase numbers of newcomers to Canada there is an ongoing drama playing out in our parish and parishes like ours.

In the summer and fall of 2023 East African refugee claimants started arriving in Hamilton having fled social or political strife. Social service agencies were stretched to the max and religious organizations were asked to assist with settlement in any way they were able. The Hamilton-Haldimand Region of the Diocese of Niagara, under the leadership of Archdeacon Terry DeForest and other clergy, invited the newcomers to a meal at All Saint’s Mission in downtown Hamilton in September, and as so often happens when people eat together relation- ships were forged.

Since then so many of us have rallied round doing what we can to welcome these newcomers who are now experiencing a Canadian winter for the first time. With the help of other churches, and our usual winter clothing drive at St. James, we were able to collect vast numbers of coats. All Saints Mission have kindly loaned their facilities and we kitted out over 100 Kenyans and Ugandans. A couple of weeks later we welcomed 120 and were able to provide them with bed linens and towels.

We have heard stories of depressing scenarios happening in the shelters in Hamilton. These shelters are struggling to keep the homeless warm, fed, and off the streets at night. Some of the men told us they first arrived in Toronto and were told to come to Hamilton because there was no space in Toronto.

The newcomers are so happy when they manage to find housing. Usually four or more rent a house or apartment together and move in without much for furniture. Some of them, we discovered, were sleeping on the floor, often for weeks until our furniture collection and moving business was initiated. At the time of writing at least 60 beds have now been delivered around Hamilton.

A local service club and some individuals have donated money so we can rent small trucks and every Tuesday a team goes around picking up donated furniture and taking it where things are needed. Social media and word of mouth mean that the collection of furniture is just keeping up with the list of needs. One kind parishioner has given up her garage for storage. Her neighbours must be wondering about the numerous people coming and going at irregular times of day.

The most amazing thing is that these newcomers have become our friends and love coming to help move the furniture, helping other newcomers get settled. So, our more aging congregation just needs to drive cars and vans and not lift the heavy beds and sofas. Every week we welcome a dozen or more of them to our Sunday service and find sharing our cultures has livened our coffee hour.

We are also helping with finding jobs and giving support to the refugee claimant’s application process; both very stressful experiences that all newcomers face. We get excited when another one finds a job or gets their paperwork completed. Two of our favourite young men have found employment at shipbuilding company; one young lady is busy taking courses for her PSW certificate. One thing is certain they are all so grateful that Canada has welcomed them. Remember a stranger is just someone you haven’t met yet.

  • Sue Carson

    Sue Carson is the chair of Climate Justice Niagara and a member of St. James, Dundas.

Skip to content