How migration to the Maritimes provinces could change the Church’s mission.
“There’s no place like home.” This year’s tourism slogan for Nova Scotia accurately captures recent census figures, which show that increasing numbers of people are making the Maritimes home. Local congregation members have missional opportunities to put on the tea kettle and put out the (radical) welcome mat like never before.
Statistics Canada reported in March that more people moved to New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia from other parts of Canada than moved away. In fact, for the first time ever, Nova Scotia’s population reached the one million mark this year, with a 5% bump from 2016 to 2021. New Brunswick’s jumped 3.8% and PEI’s population grew by a whopping 8%. Notably, all three provinces charted a record number of immigrants, with a high percentage putting down roots by purchasing properties.
There are a variety of reasons for the increased number of newcomers making their home in the East Coast. Whether it be for the slower pace and relaxed lifestyle of the Maritimes, lower housing costs, shorter commutes, or the ability to work from home, even some of the rural areas are seeing population revival. This is indeed good news; the harvest is plentiful for missional ministry, especially as new residents settle in and seek the warmth of community.
Radical Welcome Mats
The Anglican Parish of New Germany, located in the centre of Christmas tree country in Nova Scotia, has been working hard to help people connect to their neighbours. Each Thursday the small congregation hosts a morning Community Café in St. John in the Wilderness Hall, which they always keep festively decorated. A team of ministers (laity and ordained) extends down-home hospitality with delicious baked goods, fruit, and fair-trade coffee. Inspirational scripture verse cards are placed on each table, alongside fresh flowers.
New Germany does not have a coffee shop, so the church hall has become the hub for community connections. An average of 30 people show up each week, most new residents who have purchased houses, hobby farms and cottages in the county. Two regular attendees are a Korean couple, who moved in after living in Toronto and Dallas. Another pair—she from Ontario, he from Australia—purchased an old farmhouse nearby. Their first visit they discovered a babies and toddlers group and decided to join because she was pregnant. After the child was born, the Café hosted a community party to celebrate.
One missional leader describes the Community Café as a “lifeline” for those who have few or no local family connections. Workshops, farmers’ markets, free meeting space, and craft sales are offered during the Café gathering too. There is no charge to attend Thursday mornings. Free-will donations cover the cost of refreshments, and the remaining money is used to support a local family at Christmas time. Building on the attendance of the Community Café, leaders invite patrons to attend a monthly Café Church in the same space. The congregation’s ukulele group leads music worship.
Missions such as these occur all over the Maritimes. On the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia, a passionate missional leader keeps an eye out for “Sold” signs in her Sheet Harbour neighbourhood. When she sees a moving truck, she delivers soup and other homemade goodies to unpacking residents. During pandemic restrictions, she invited a group of these new neighbours to a driveway party, complete with lawn chairs, lemonade and cookies. In Sydney, northern Nova Scotia, 3,500 international students attend Cape Breton University. Many of them hail from hot countries and arrive unprepared for chilly winters. One minister takes carloads of students shopping to help them choose snow boots, parkas and toques for when the snow flies. Another missional leader in Summerside, Prince Edward Island, is working with a team to host free monthly meals for international students at Holland College. Their aim is to build relationships, serve, and hopefully offer spiritual care to (and possibly worship with) these newcomers.
Listening and Sharing
Creating caring environments and offering generous hospitality to newcomers is one of the first steps to sharing the love of Christ; it is authentic faith in action. It is reported that Teddy Roosevelt said, “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” Intentionally listening to the needs of these new residents, especially related to their spirituality and curiosity about faith, will help ministers to shape and host opportunities for seekers to connect with Christianity.
Jesus was in the habit of sharing meals and relaxed time together with his companions. He included outsiders in his circle and invited them to follow the Way of Love. His disciples witnessed and experienced his authentic compassion and grew an openness to hear his transformational teaching about God and Good News.
Christ is our home. How can we find ways to practically live Christ and create “home” for people who are new to our neighbourhoods? In what ways can we intentionally hold safe and generous space for those who are seeking genuine connection with others and with the Holy?