By Diana Swift, Staff writer
A few years ago, the Rev. Ted McCollum started noticing a lot of new faces in his hometown of Beaverton, Ont. “They were seasonal agricultural workers and they really stood out,” says McCollum, rector of St. Paul’s Anglican Church in this small community on Lake Simcoe, which is surrounded by cottages and vegetable farms.
In August of 2009, McCollum and some of his parishioners decided to reach out to the newcomers, who hailed from Mexico. They learned that most arrive in May and stay until November.
“We approached them and asked them what they like to have,” says McCollum. For starters, the church arranged to show movies and soccer games in the parish hall at St. Paul’s. But then, the visitors said they’d really like to celebrate mass in Spanish, which they had not done since coming to Canada.
McCollum pulled a few strings and arranged to have Fr. Hernan Astudillo come from San Lorenzo Anglican Church in Toronto to preside over a Spanish mass for the workers every Wednesday evening until they returned home in November.
St. Paul’s parishioners drive out to the farm and bring the men into town for the service. “At a regular mass, 40 to 50 men will attend, and on special occasions 70 or 80 will come,” says McCollum.
St. Paul’s also hosts a special service and dinner every year on or about Sept. 16 in honour of Mexican Independence Day. McCollum’s wife, Kimberley Reid, who is fluent in Spanish, prepares Mexican food for the celebration. In a win-win move, the parish also hired a language teacher from Mexico in 2011 to teach English to the workers and Spanish to parishioners.
In addition, the parish celebrates birthdays and offers the workers help with taxes, government claims and shopping. It also provides free phones and internet. Separated from their loved ones for long periods, the workers can now contact them via Facebook or Skype. One worker had not seen his newborn daughter for several months. “When he saw his family on Skype, he was just over the moon,” says McCollum.
This unusual ministry has had a profound impact on many of the migrant workers. “A lot of the guys had been wondering whether they should come back the next year since the work was so hard,” says McCollum. “But because of our ministry, they said they have a home and a community to come back to.”
He advises other churches in rural areas to look around and reach out in ministry to people who may not traditionally attend Anglican churches. “These workers are largely Roman Catholic, but when we reached out to them with no strings attached, they were overjoyed.”
This past spring, the workers contacted St. Paul’s as soon as they arrived for the season, saying: “We’re back. What are we going to do this year?”
The town’s previously uninvolved Roman Catholic parish has now come on board and is working at St. Paul’s to help serve the visiting field workers. ”They can see we have a rapport with the guys,” says McCollum.
Anglican Journal News, July 25, 2012