Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Helping Syrian Refugees in Canada and Closer to Their Homes

Lots of churches are planning to sponsor Syrian refugees--a generous response that warms all of our hearts. But sponsoring refugees is expensive. It can cost between $30,000 to $50,000 to bring in one family. This is money that will not be available to international aid organizations that are trying to help the millions of desperate Syrian refugees still in the region--people who are hungry, yet who want to return home one day to rebuild their shattered country. Maybe we can do both: Help people who want to come to Canada, and those who, like young Angeline above, are still in places like Jordan and Lebanon. 

 “Don’t forget me.”

That’s what a Syrian woman told Don Peters, Executive Director of Mennonite Central Committee, when he visited her in Lebanon.

It was 2013, and Peters had met many Syrians in that country who had fled their homes In Syria for uncertain lives as refugees. They told him about escaping as their homes were being destroyed, and about watching conflict envelop their cities and neighbourhoods.

“Many had crossed into Lebanon without official documents and little money,” says Peters. 

“They were worried about how they would buy food and pay for housing. They wondered if they would be able to find work, schools for their children and medical attention for their injuries.”

Most of them said their dream was to return home to Syria one day to rebuild their shattered communities and lives.

As Peters looked into that woman’s eyes, he realized she was asking him something profound, something beyond her own personal story.

“She was asking me to remember all the people we had met, and all the refugees who would seek a safe haven in places such as Lebanon,” he says.

Unfortunately that woman, and the millions of other Syrians still in the region who are affected by the conflict in their country, they are in danger of being forgotten today by many Canadians.

This isn’t happening out of lack of care or concern. To their great credit, many churches and other places of worship, along with businesses, governments and others, are responding generously to help relocate Syrian refugees to Canada. 

We have all been moved by the heartfelt scenes in the media as sponsors welcome families from that war-torn country to their new home.

This response is a good, right, proper and Canadian thing to do. Everyone who has donated money, time or effort to help resettle Syrian refugees in Canada is to be commended. 

But the number of refugees coming to Canada is just a fraction of the many people from that country who need our help today.

Right now, there are an estimated three million Syrians who have fled for safety to Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. Over six million are internally displaced within Syria itself. The World Food Programme (WFP) is feeding over four million people inside Syria and 1.3 million more in neighbouring countries.

These are people who hope to go home one day, when the war finally ends. But with almost all the attention today on helping bring refugees to Canada, its hard for aid agencies to raise awareness about their needs—or get the funding they need.

For example, declines in funding has meant that the WFP has had to reduce the amount of food it provides for Syrian refugees by a quarter. This means people have to eat smaller meals, and less frequently. Other aid groups face similar challenges.

This doesn’t mean Canadians should stop helping bring Syrian refugees to Canada—far from it!  But perhaps they can help people come here, but also help those who are still in the region.

One way to do that would be for groups sponsoring refugee families to add ten percent to the total they need to raise. This extra money can then be given to help those who are still in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.

For example, it costs my own agency, Canadian Foodgrains Bank, $13.50 to provide supplemental food for one Syrian refugee in Lebanon or Jordan for a month through its member agencies. It’s $67.50 for a family of five. 

Since it can cost between $30,000 to $50,000 to sponsor one family to come to Canada, an extra ten percent would provide $3,000 to $5,000, or enough for a group to “sponsor” another three to six families a year.

For Peters, that encounter with the Syrian refugee woman two years ago stayed with him. “Of all the places I have been, and the people I have met during my time at MCC, that day in Lebanon is one of my most profound memories,” he says.

Not all of us can have a personal experience like that. But we can all join together in remembering her, and the millions more Syrians in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria who need our help. 

Donations made by December 31 to registered charities responding to the needs of Syrian refugees in the region will be matched 1:1 by the Canadian government.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Welcoming Syrian Refugees to Canada: The Best Christmas Ever?

Is 2015 the best Christmas ever? It sure feels that way.

I don’t know about you, but my heart has been warmed this season, and not just because of the warmer than normal temperatures. Rather, it’s because of the amazing response across Canada to the plight of Syrian refugees.

I don’t get misty-eyed with national pride very often, but I felt proud to be a Canadian as I watched the Prime Minister welcome the first Syrians with the simple words: “You are home.”

It doesn’t hurt that other countries have noticed, and are heaping praise on Canada.

“Until Mr. Trudeau’s election, the Canadian government had been among Western countries that had responded to the refugee crisis with more apprehension than compassion,” said an editorial in the New York Times.

It went on to note that while the crisis in Syria is huge, and Canada’s response is small in comparison to the need. Yet, the newspaper noted, “Canada’s generosity—and Mr. Trudeau’s personal warmth and leadership—can serve as a beacon for others.”

As with many other international crises, churches are at the forefront of the response. This is not surprising; churches have long history of responding to these kinds of needs.

This includes my own church, which announced to applause on Sunday that it has decided to sponsor a Syrian refugee family.

And it’s not only Christians; other faith groups are also responding. This includes members of the local Jewish community, who want to help another group caught up in the conflict in that region—the Yazidis—through Operation Ezra. 

The effort to help this persecuted minority is being led Belle Jarniewski, chairwoman of the Freeman Family Holocaust Education Centre and vice-president of the Manitoba Multifaith Council.

For her, the cause is personal; during the Holocaust, her father’s entire family was murdered by the Nazis. She wants to prevent a similar genocide from befalling the Yazidis.

In an op-ed in this newspaper, she wrote that the words “never again” means “we would not stand by silently while another people is being slaughtered because of what they believe.”

While it’s enormously gratifying to see so many people wanting to help resettle refugees in Canada, there is concern this will mean fewer dollars will be available to help the estimated three million Syrian refugees who have sought shelter in places like Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

With it costing $20,000 to $40,000 to settle a refugee family in Canada, there is concern among aid agencies that there will be fewer dollars left over to help people who are facing hunger and other needs in those countries.

One idea being floated is for churches and other groups that want to sponsor refugees to Canada to raise an additional five or ten percent to help those who are living in countries closer to their homeland.

Since it can cost only $80-$100 a month to provide supplementary food assistance for a family of six, this means a little can go a long way towards helping families who choose not to leave for places like Canada—people who hope to go home again one day to rebuild their broken nation.

But that is not to take away from the heartfelt and generous response from individuals, congregations, local and provincial governments, schools, businesses and so many others.

Altogether, the outpouring of support makes things feel so right, so Canadian, so Christmasy. It aligns so perfectly with the original biblical story of another young family seeking shelter and safety so long ago—a family that themselves would also become refugees.

Sure, there is still far too much attention paid to the glitzy consumerism of Christmas. We cannot escape the fake sentimentalities of the season that cling like slush to our shoes. 

And there are still far too many too many homeless and hungry Canadians who will not share in the cozy and familial delight of this holiday.

But there is still something magical, or maybe star-like, in the air. Maybe it’s that beacon noted by the New York Times, a shining light from Canada that brightens all of our spirits.

I don’t know if you feel that way, too, but through the response to the plight of Syrian refugees I hear an echo of the angels in the Gospel of Luke, the ones who sang “peace, goodwill to all” the night the Christ child was born.

Until Dec. 31, the Canadian government is matching all donations 1:1 for Syrian refugees in Lebanon & Jordan. You can support the efforts of Canadian Foodgrains Bank to help refugees in those countries by clicking here. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Lowest Overhead or Biggest Impact: What's the Best Way to Choose a Charity?

Once again, this year the non-profit I work for was named to the top 25 list of best Canadian non-profits to give to. I am not promoting the favourable ranking.  Why? First, I don’t agree with how the rankings work, giving highest marks for lowest overhead. Second, it isn’t fair to all the other charities that do good work, but don’t make the list. As it turns out, Bruce MacDonald, CEO of Imagine Canada, feels the same way about charity rankings, as the interview below shows. 

Are you planning to make a year-end donation to charity?

If the answer is yes, you’re not alone. It is estimated that over $5 billion is given by Canadians to non-profit organizations in the last six weeks of each year.

Much of that is given by people of faith. Research repeatedly shows that the more religious a person is, the more they give to charity.

Many donors have already decided who to give to. But others may not yet have made up their minds. With over 86,000 charities in Canada, it can be hard to choose. What to do?

Many people will turn to the increasingly-popular lists of Canada’s “best” charities. These rankings, which rate charities according to their financial efficiency—the best bang for the donated buck—get a lot of publicity in the media around Christmastime.

For many Canadians, they are a popular way to determine which group to give to. It saves a lot of time, and donors can know their money went to the "best" non-profit groups, the ones that spend the least on overhead. 

Or is that the case? Bruce MacDonald doesn’t think so.
According to MacDonald, President and CEO of Imagine Canada, an umbrella group for Canadian charities, the problem is that these rankings measure the wrong thing.

While glad the media is interested in the charitable sector, these rankings “are invariably skewed to having a heavy emphasis on the cost side of business,” he says, adding that they “perpetuate the belief that ensuring adequate resources to deliver quality programs is a bad thing.”

What MacDonald objects to is how the highest rankings are given to groups that spend the least on things like staff salaries, administration, communications and fundraising. The ones that need to spend more to deliver their programs end up with lower scores.

He agrees that charities need to be careful with donated dollars. But, he says, this way of measuring charity effectiveness is “a poor reflection” of the real worth of non-profit organizations.

“One size doesn’t fit all,” he states. “The issues the different groups address are complex. It’s hard to compare a group that digs wells in Ghana with an organization that treats people with AIDS in Vancouver.”

What MacDonald would rather see measured is impact—what effect has the charity has on the lives of people it is trying to help? And if it costs more to help someone beat an addiction or escape poverty to do it, that should be money well spent.

“If you want real impact, you need to have real investment,” he says. “It’s hard for groups to achieve life-changing outcomes if they can only invest a little.”

In addition to affecting donor behaviour, MacDonald also is critical of how these rankings promote the idea that “charity costs nothing.” 

He is also concerned about the effect on charities themselves. The rankings, he says, have created what he calls “a race to the bottom” as groups try to out-do each other and get higher scores by touting lower overheads.

MacDonald knows the rankings won't stop. But what he would like to see is the media doing a better job of putting charity effectiveness in context. And he would also like to see charities decline to participate in the ranking process, or refuse to do any publicity if they get a good ranking. 

“We need to stop defining ourselves according to someone else’s playing field,” he says of Canada's non-profit sector. “We need to reframe the narrative about the sector so we talk more about impact, not just about costs.”

As someone who has worked in the non-profit sector for most of my career, what MacDonald says rings true for me. 

The truth is that doing good well costs money. Groups need well-trained staff, up-to-date technology, great accounting and skilled oversight to ensure donations are used effectively and for their intended purposes.

So as you prepare for your year-end giving, the best advice is always to start early and do your own research. Then, once you have chosen a charity, stick with it—that way you will always know how your donations are being used.

But if you have waited to the last moment, don’t just rely on the rankings. If you can, take a bit more time to find the one that gets the best results.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Is Your Church Liquid? Or, What's in a Name.

A church in my neighbourhood is thinking about a name change. Its current name is taken from its location and denomination; so far, the new names being suggested are mostly variations on the same theme. Maybe what they need to do is really step out of the proverbial box and come up with something radical, like many churches are doing today.

There was a time when it was easy to name a church. All a congregation needed to do was follow a few simple guidelines. 

If you were Protestant, always include the denomination: Baptist, Nazarene, Mennonite, Pentecostal, etc.

In order to be easily found, include geography, using either a street name or location.

For churches lacking in imagination, chronology was helpful: First Baptist, Second Church of Christ, Scientist or Third Presbyterian. 

Saints were also a great source of names, especially for Catholics and mainline Protestants. So were biblical concepts like Epiphany, Faith, Grace, Abundant Life, Immaculate Conception or Miracle, to name a few. 

Those simple days seem are long gone. 

Blogger Dennis Baker took a look around the U.S. and came across the following names for churches: 

  • Resonate
  • Revolution
  • Radiance
  • Mosaic
  • Encompass
  • Soma
  • Journey
  • Solomon’s Porch
  • Celebration
  • Legacy
  • Encounter
  • The Well
  • Carpenter’s
  • Flipside
  • Substance
  • The Orchard
  • The Pursuit
  • Liquid
  • The Table

And dozens more.

Unique church names are not only found in the U.S.Winnipeg, where I live, has a few, as well, such as Soul Sanctuary, Oasis, Springs, The Bridge, Solidrock, Church of the Rock, Faithworks 4 U, The Meeting Place and The Den.

What’s driving the changes? The same thing that’s driving name changes in the business world: The need to stand out in an increasingly noisy and cluttered marketplace.

In this case, it’s the marketplace of theological ideas. People want a name that sticks out—one that arouses curiosity and sticks in the mind of those who might be seeking a church home.

People also want names that stand out on the Internet. There are a lot of First Baptists out there, but how many churches do you think are named Liquid? (It’s in New Jersey, in case you’re interested.)

But how to come up with a new name? One way is to ask the congregation what they like. Or you could do what Matt Sweetman, a church planter in Chicago, did. 

When it was time to find a name for his new church, Sweetman came up with a list of names and then did a survey in the community.  

In selecting potential names, his first criteria was that it had to be simple: “One or two words with the word ‘church’ after it,” he wrote on his blog. “People need to know we are a church, so having ‘church’ [in the name] is important to me.”

He also wanted it to be attractive for people who didn’t go to church, but not one that alienated Christians.

It had to be “something non-traditional, because we are targeting a younger urban crowd, yet something not too wacky that would turn away Christians who are looking for a church,” he said.

The four names that rose to the top for consideration were: Message Church, Crimson Church, Destination Church and Celebration Church.

Church members then went out in the neighbourhood and asked people: “Purely based on the name, which church would you be most likely to visit if a friend invited you or if you saw an advertisement?”

The winner? Destination Church—that was the name that was most appealing.

In addition to being original, he wrote, “it has great theological meaning. Our destination is Jesus. Everything ultimately finds meaning in him. It speaks of purpose, clarity and goals. Most Christians thought it sounded strong and had lots of marketing potential. 

"Non-Christians shocked us with their opinion of this name. 90 percent of them really liked it. They understood it. It made sense to them and they thought it sounded pretty cool, actually.”

So, what’s in a name? It should be memorable, reflect congregational character and beliefs, and arouse a curiosity.

That, plus be easy to find on the Internet. 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Prayers for Paris, and Beirut and Other Acts of Terrorism

In the 24 hours after the terrorist attacks in France , more than 70 million people around the world took to Instagram to pray for Paris .

I'm not on Instagram, but my Facebook feed was filled with similar messages from people indicating that they, too, were praying for that city.

I understand why people did that. Faced with such a terrible event, we all felt so powerless. Prayer was one thing we could do.

But what to pray? That was the challenge. Finding the right words is hard for situations like that. 

Not knowing what else to say, many Christians resort to the ubiquitous “be with” prayer. As in “God, be with the people of Paris .” Theologically, that’s suspect, since Christians believe God is omnipresent—and if God was to be anywhere that evening, Paris was the place.

Although I could not find any prayers for Paris on the Web, a few people have taken time to write some good prayers for a time such as this. Like this one, posted by the Diocese of Portsmouth in England after the terrorist attacks in London in 2005.

We pray for those affected by terrorist attacks around the world, and especially those in London.

We pray for the families who have lost loved ones. We pray for the fire, police and ambulance staff on the scene. We pray for the doctors and nurses caring for the hurting.

We pray for the reporters who work through intense emotion to bring us the pictures and news of the day. 

We pray for the our elected leaders who so desperately need wisdom from beyond themselves. 

We pray for the clergy in London who care first-hand for the spiritual needs of those who have experienced this great tragedy.

We pray for the military and intelligence agencies who seek to find out who would do this so they might be brought to justice. 

We pray for our nation—that this event will bring us together and turn our thoughts toward helping each other to overcome the threat of terrorism.

We pray for all those who might be tempted to think that violence accomplishes anything of lasting value. 

Lastly, we pray for every peace lover in this world. May God break the cycle of violence to make a difference for His Peace and Grace in this sinful world.

Or this one, inspired by a prayer posted on the website of the New South Wales Council of Churches in 2011.

Almighty God, Lord of all compassion, events in recent weeks remind us that we continue to live in a broken and deeply divided world.

We cannot comprehend what drives people to acts of terror and destruction, and to a willingness to kill and maim innocent people in the name of religion.

As Jesus commanded, we pray for our enemies and those who wish us ill; we pray for an end to hatred and needless violence; we pray for children left orphaned, and bereaved parents; we pray for those who live with physical and mental scars of terrorism. And we also pray for those who work to relieve the suffering.

Pour your Spirit on us to enable us and all your people to work for justice and true peacemaking, In the name of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. Amen.

And, finally, this prayer, titled Prayer in Times of Violence and Fear, from Presbyterian Church USA .

Almighty, all-merciful God, through Christ Jesus you have taught us to love one another,
to love our neighbours as ourselves, and even to love our enemies.

In times of violence and fear, let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, so that we may not be overcome with evil but overcome evil with good.

Help us to see each person in light of the love and grace you have shown us in Christ. Put away the nightmares of terror and awaken us to the dawning of your new creation. Establish among us a future where peace reigns, justice is done with mercy, and all are reconciled.

We ask these things in the name and for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I’m grateful for those who wrote these prayers, but sorry they had to be written at all. I’m even sadder they will probably be necessary again in the future.

From my Nov. 28 Winnipeg Free Press column.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S, Lewis, The Great War and This Present Darkness

In the wake of the Paris and Beirut attacks, it is easy to feel a darkness descending. What hope is there when people are willing to do such terrible and heinous things to others?

If there is any comfort in history, it is in knowing that we are not the first to feel this way, or go through this experience. 

Two men who experienced the worst that humans can do to each other were J.R.R. Tolkien, author of the Lord of the Rings, and C.S. Lewis, who wrote the Chronicles of Narnia.

Both men were soldiers in the British army on the western front in World War One. Tolkien participated in two attacks, in July and October, 1916, including one where he was in combat for 50 straight hours. 

On November 8 of that year, he was sent to hospital with trench fever. He never returned to the front—which probably saved his life.

Lewis enlisted in 1917, arriving at the front that same year at the age of 19. He was wounded in April, 1918 and sent back to England to recuperate. He also never returned to the front.

The war had a profound impact on both men. Four of Lewis’ closest college friends died in the fighting. At war’s end, all but one of Tolkien’s closest friends were dead.

The war also influenced their writing. Reflecting on his experience years later, Tolkien said his taste for fantasy was “quickened to full life by war” and that the mythology that became Lord of the Rings “first began to take shape” during the fighting.

Scenes from the war found their way into the books. For example, it was common to see bodies of dead soldiers floating under water in shell holes—something recreated when Sam Gamgee sees dead men in the water during his passage through the marshes.

Said Tolkien about that scene: “The Dead Marshes and the approaches to the Morannon owe something to Northern France after the Battle of the Somme.”

The Hobbits themselves were influenced by the ordinary British soldiers—the “Tommies”—that Tolkien encountered. 

In a letter written after his trilogy was published, Tolkien wrote that Sam Gamgee “is indeed a reflection of the English soldier, of the privates and batmen I knew in the 1914 war, and recognized as so far superior to myself.”

After the war, most authors wrote savagely and cynically about the end of progress, morality and religion—how could there be a God after such a horror?

But as Joseph Laconte notes in his new book, A Hobbit, A Wardrobe and aGreat War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship andHeroes in the Cataclysm of 1914-18, the war may have caused others to lose faith, but Tolkien and Lewis “it deepened their spiritual quest.”

What distinguished Tolkien, a Catholic, and Lewis, an Anglican, from other writers who experienced that war was how they emerged from it with a sense of hope and faith. Their books showed that evil and darkness were not the last words.

As Laconte put it: “In Middle-earth and Narnia, the ruin or redemption of every person depends on what side he or she has chosen in the conflict . . . the heroic figure is the one who resists evil, who is willing to lay down his life for his friends.”

After the attacks, many wonder what they can do in response. Prayer is one thing, as is doing any small deed of kindness for others. 

But maybe another thing is to read (or re-read) the works of Tolkien and Lewis—not for escapist fantasy from the world, but to be reminded that good and light can overcome evil and darkness in the end.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Storage Wars, or Do We Have Too Much Stuff?

Since 2008, when I wrote the column below, another 1,000 self-storage facilities have been added in the U.S. (up to 52,000), and a couple hundred more in Canada (about 3,000). In the U.S., the industry today is worth over $27 billion and has spawned a TV show, Storage Wars. There are understandable reasons for why people sometimes need storage—having to move, losing a home, downsizing. Or is it because we just have too much stuff? This is the second in my series on simplicity; click here to read the first post about Doris Janzen Longacre, the patron saint of simplicity.

A new self-storage business recently opened in my end of town. It’s huge—nine buildings with 768 storage units of varying sizes.

Looking at it, I wondered: How many people need to rent extra space to store their stuff?

Lots, as it turns out. The self-storage industry in Canada is booming.

“Canadian storage markets are bursting at the seams as skyrocketing consumer demand drives the building of new facilities,” writes Richard Leach in Inside Self Storage, the largest-circulation magazine for storage professionals in North America.

According to Leach, over the past 10 years there has been dramatic growth in self-storage in nearly every province. Today there are 2,800 self-storage facilities in Canada, compared to over 51,000 in the U.S.

North America is “consumer-driven,” says Leach, adding that people “like to hold onto their stuff.”

It’s not as though we need the extra space; our homes should be big enough to hold everything we need.

The average house being built in Canada today is 2,000 square feet. In 1975, it was 1,075 square feet. In 1945 it was just 800 square feet. Since the size of Canadian families is shrinking, we should need less stuff and less space, not more. But the growth of the self-storage sector suggests otherwise.

It’s a worrisome trend for Winnipegger Mark Burch, author of Simplicity: Stories and Exercises for Developing Unimaginable Wealth. 

Through our excessive consumerism “we are smashing the body and shedding the blood of the greatest gift given to us,” he says. “Caring for this planet is the way we manifest God’s love.”

Burch, Campus Sustainability Coordinator at the University of Winnipeg, is a proponent of what is called voluntary simplicity—the idea that people should purposefully try to live more simply in order to preserve the planet and their sanity. 

The term was coined in 1936 by Richard Gregg, who defined it as a “singleness of purpose, sincerity and honesty . . . as well as avoidance of exterior clutter, of many possessions irrelevant to the chief purpose of life. It means an ordering and guiding of our energy and our desires, a partial restraint in some directions in order to secure greater abundance of life in other directions.”

For Burch, voluntary simplicity isn’t just a way to save money by not buying more stuff. It’s also a way to contribute to the good of the earth and its inhabitants. 

“Discerning how much is enough involves placing our personal consumption of things in the context of environmental sustainability, social justice, and inter-generational equity," he says.

"In this realm, we move beyond considerations of what may be expedient or comfortable in terms of our individual lives and consider ourselves to be part of a much larger whole.”

It’s a way, he says, to “create a world that is more peaceful and equitable.”

Simplicity has deep religious roots. Jesus, The Buddha, St. Francis of Assisi, the Amish, various monastic orders and others all advocated it.

“The ethical and spiritual dimension of this is very important,” says Burch. “We need to subordinate our material consumption to spiritual values. We need to take time to remember who we are, why we are here, and what our purpose is.”

But trying to live more simply today is hard, he acknowledges—it’s like swimming upstream against a raging current.

One way some people are helping each other is by joining simplicity circles, where they can find support in buying and using less. 

There’s nothing wrong with buying the things we need, of course. We need food, clothing, furniture, a place to live and many other items. But our culture never gives us a break. We’re always being pushed to buy more of this and more of that. 

And then, after we've gone out and bought more stuff than we can use, we’re told we need to rent some place to store it. 

“We need to consume to live, but we shouldn’t live to consume,” says Burch. That sounds like good, simple advice to me.

Mark Burch is now retired from the University of Winnipeg. He directs the Simplicity Institute.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Justin Trudeau, the Liberal Party and Faith

Now that Canada has a new Prime Minister, some will want to know: What about his faith?

In a 2014 interview with the Ottawa Citizen, Justin Trudeau said he was “raised with both a deep faith and a regular practice of Catholicism. We were in church every Sunday that we were with my dad. We read the Bible as a family every Sunday night. And we said our prayers just about every night together as a family.”

But when he turned 18, he became a lapsed Catholic. “I realized that . . . too much of my day-to-day life that was not the slightest addressed by what I was receiving from the church, from the formality, from the structure,” he said.

“So like so many Catholics across this country, I said, ‘OK, I’m Catholic, I’m of faith but I’m just not really going to go to church. Maybe on Easter, maybe midnight mass at Christmas.’”

But when his brother was tragically killed in an avalanche in B.C. in 1998, faith became more important. This included accepting an invitation from a friend to attend an Alpha course, an evangelistic discussion group about Christianity.

The course “came at exactly the right time,” he said, helping him realize that he needed to trust “in God’s plan.” Since that time, he “re-found . . . a deep faith and belief in God.”

At the same time, he hastened to add, he was “obviously very aware of the separation of church and state in my political thinking.”

For some, Trudeau’s acknowledgement of his faith is welcome news, as are his promises to support increased foreign aid, aid for refugees, protecting the environment and programs that address poverty and issues facing Canada’s Indigenous people—all things many people consider to be part of what it means to be a person of faith.

For others, however, that isn’t good enough since Trudeau also supports a woman’s right to choose an abortion.

Campaign Life, a Christian anti-abortion group that campaigned against Trudeau during the election, issued a press release following his victory expressing regret and stating that his “extremist position” will lead to “greater access to abortion” across Canada .

In another press release, the organization criticized the Catholic Church for not publicly rebuking the now-Prime Minister. It quoted a Catholic lawyer who suggested the Church should “consider excommunicating” Trudeau, and other Catholic politicians “who refuse to take their Catholic faith into the legislature.”

What about the Liberal Party itself and religion?

For years, many people of faith—especially evangelical Christians—have complained that it treated them badly. This is something that Liberal MP John McKay, an evangelical Christian, acknowledges to be true.

“I think the Liberal party has had a tin ear for people of faith, right across spectrum,” he told me recently.

Although McKay knows that some people are critical of the Party’s stand on abortion—he also differed with Trudeau on that issue—he thinks there are many other issues where people of faith can find common ground with the new government.

On climate change, the Liberal party “lines up nicely with Pope Francis, and that should make a lot of Catholics happy,” he said, adding that “on social justice issues and foreign aid, Trudeau was quite assertive in his desire get back into the game.”

As for future relations with people of faith, McKay hopes that Trudeau will reach out soon to leaders of the various faith communities. After all, he notes. if Trudeau is going to fulfill his promises in the areas of foreign aid, refugees and other social issues, “he is going to need everyone, but in particular the religious community,” since “they are the main” players in those areas.

He also hopes Trudeau will keep the Office of Religious Freedom, which was created by Stephen Harper in 2013. The office, he says, “provides a valuable service to all MPs.”

For McKay, there is “a broad base of sympathy in the Liberal Party for the works of faith communities, even if there is not a broad base of understanding of the faith of faith communities.”

Faith groups, he adds, "have some reason for optimism” when it comes to working with the new government. 

Over the next few years, we’ll see if that’s the case.