The following article appeared in the Globe and Mail on June 7, 2017. Congregations may reproduce this article on their website and in their newsletters, with the proper credits (at bottom).
Presbyterians continue to help build and strengthen Canada’s social fabric
When Scottish settlers arrived in the Maritimes in the 18th century, they brought with them Presbyterianism and the idea of the church as an organ for social transformation and working for the common good.
“Presbyterians have always been interested in education and social justice,” says Rev. Ian Ross-McDonald, general secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, which is headquartered in Toronto. “That’s why in many towns that they settled in, the first things erected were a church and a school.”
That sense of civic duty remained strong as those early Presbyterian settlers organized congregations in various parts of the country, eventually coming together in 1875 to form the Presbyterian Church in Canada – at that time the largest Protestant denomination in the land.
As Canada grew from a dominion of four provinces to the confederation it is today, the Presbyterian Church and its members – which included the likes of Anne of Green Gables author Lucy Maude Montgomery and journalist George Brown, who went on to become one of the fathers of confederation – played pivotal roles in building and strengthening the country’s social fabric.
Rev. Ross-McDonald points to the various programs run by congregations across Canada over the decades – from children’s after-school and lunch programs to community choirs, family violence prevention and refugee sponsorships.
“Presbyterians have, as a rule, supported not just education but also worked to ensure that families are looked after socially,” he says. “When the church moved to Canada, it became involved in welcoming people from other countries. For example, we helped people escaping the Irish potato famine, as well Hungarian refugees who arrived in the 1950s. And while we are painfully aware of the role the church played in the residential schools, we are very invested in healing and reconciliation work with Indigenous people.”
Today, the Presbyterian Church in Canada continues its philanthropic work through roughly 150,000 people in more than 800 congregations, worshipping across the country in over 20 different languages. These efforts extend beyond Canada; in the last 150 years, the church has sent close to 840 missionaries and supported thousands of projects in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, and Central and South America.
This important work has changed so many lives. The church’s maternal health program, for instance, has provided health services to more than 27,000 people in Afghanistan and supported more than 2,000 women and girls in Malawi through human rights and gender empowerment training. In Afghan communities where Presbyterians support the maternal health program, mortality rates among new mothers have fallen from 15 out of every 1,000 live births to one out of 1,000 in the Afghanistan communities.
As Canadians celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary this year, many may not realize that the country they so proudly call home was shaped in part by Presbyterians.
“The values of the church – like supporting education, sharing what you have, participating in government and contributing to the common good – were very strongly reinforced from the pulpit every Sunday and in bible study,” says Rev. Ross-McDonald. “Those values would have influenced local policies and how people voted, and in Ottawa we have had a number of politicians over the years who came from the Presbyterian church.”
This article originally appeared in Philanthropy in Canada, a Globe and Mail sponsor content feature on 7 June 2017. Produced by Randall Anthony Communications for The Globe and Mail’s Custom Content Studio. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.