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Church’s vigil for Muslim community warms hearts

St. Andrew's United recognized for its vigil service after Quebec mosque shooting

Rev. Russ Daye with Rev. Ian Fraser, who gave the sermon at the vigil.   Kathleen Jones

A Halifax church that held a vigil in solidarity with the Muslim community is getting a little love from around the world.

St. Andrew’s United Church held a special service on Feb. 5 following the shooting at a Quebec mosque. Six people died and 19 were wounded in that attack.

John McCracken spotted a sign announcing the vigil as he was driving by the church just before the service. He took a photo of it and shared it on Twitter.

“I was just really touched by that sign, and first I thought, ‘This is what Halifax is all about,’ but then I kind of thought, ‘This is what my country is supposed to be about,’” said McCracken, a former communications representative for the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

“I don’t go to church and I don’t believe in religion per se, but I certainly consider myself to be a spiritual person.”

 

McCracken’s tweet got 101 retweets and 251 likes. It generated more than 3,000 shares on Facebook and 19,000 likes when the Facebook/Twitter page Meanwhile In Canada shared the tweet on its social platforms that same morning.

McCracken later tweeted out a supportive message:

Across the globe

The post drew support from people throughout the world.

Russ Daye, the lead minister at St. Andrew’s, found out about the post after a former member of his church messaged him to say that it had made it all the way to Spain, where she was living.

“So that was pretty great,” he said.

Other former members also sent him messages about the post.

People from countries such as the U.S. also expressed support on Facebook, both before and after the service.

Muslims welcomed

The service included a speech by Imam Mohammed Yaffa, who works in talent and organization development at the Nova Scotia Health Authority. Anyone from any faith was invited to take communion.

The vigil service ended with a candle-lighting ceremony. It drew between 225 to 250 people (a large crowd for January, when numbers tend to dip down). Daye estimated that between 20 and 30 people were Muslim.

St. Andrew’s United Church.   Kathleen Jones

Daye isn’t sure how many people came to the service after seeing the Meanwhile In Canada post, but several new people told him they came after seeing a picture of the sign on Twitter or hearing about it on Facebook. He said some of those people came back to church the following Sunday.

Mixed reaction

Not all of the reaction to the social media post has been positive. One user asked whether Muslims would do the same for Christians in a similar situation, while others expressed anger at Islam itself.

Daye said people often write those kinds of comments out of a place of anger or ignorance.

“I think that we’re taught to love our enemies, let alone people who are different from ourselves. And I try to listen to people, whatever their perspective is, but I also try to encourage them to go and find people who are unlike themselves and listen to them,” he said.

Year of invitation

For now, the sudden attention through social media isn’t expected to change much at St. Andrew’s.

“It helps us to know what people are interested in, so our planning may take it into account,” Rev. Ian Fraser, the other minister at St. Andrew’s, wrote in an email.

“For example, we had one person who asked if we can run a seminar or discussion group on Islam to understand it better. That kind of thing we pay attention to. But it won’t make us do a 180 turn in terms of our planning.”

St. Andrew’s is already reaching out to people in different communities through its year of invitation, as well as hosting open lunches, breakfasts and services.

 

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