The school year in Montreal began with a sharp reminder that we live in a world of global migration. In August, a large number of immigrants living in the United States—many originally from Haiti—began to travel to Plattsburgh, New York, and then take taxis to the border with Quebec. There, avoiding formal border crossings, many crossed into southeastern Quebec where they were received by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and transported to Montreal. In late August, Montreal’s Olympic Stadium became a temporary home for immigrants from around the world.
In Montreal, we are in the middle of the widespread migration that is transforming our world. As other countries have tightened their borders, Canada has remained largely open to newcomers. Churches have been at the forefront of resettling refugee families in this country. At McGill, our partner university, more than a quarter of the student body consists of international students. Past generations of migration have ensured that Montreal is a genuinely multi-cultural city, which forms the backdrop of all our learning and growing at the college. All this is a small drop in a great mass of movement. In 2017, the United Nations estimated that there are 65 million displaced people in the world and many millions more who choose to move for a variety of other reasons. I, indeed, am among them. Last summer, after several years in England I returned to Canada to begin this new role.
Migration is one of the great themes of the Bible. Abram was called out of the land of Ur to a place he did not know. The people of Israel were taken into exile in Babylon, a cataclysmic migration experience that transformed their religious self-understanding. St. Paul and other early followers of Christ understood themselves as “people of the way,” who were called to be constantly on the move telling others about the good news of Jesus Christ. It is no surprise that journey remains one of the most resonant metaphors for the spiritual life.
The people who crossed the border into Quebec last August were, indeed, on a journey. But like all migrants they were also looking for a place to go, a destination. Christian theology speaks about destinations by speaking about eschatology, the study of the end. The great eschatological vision in the Book of Revelation is a vision of a destination, the heavenly city of Jerusalem coming down to be in our midst.
Both journey and destination are important words for the church to hold on to as we seek God’s will for our changing world and changing church. There are many people in the world who are on journeys, sometimes by choice and sometimes not. People on the move look for sustenance along the way. Many Christians have understood that providing such support is crucial to how they live out God’s mission in the world.
But people on the move also need something else: they need a sense of their destination, the comfort of the knowledge that their situation is only temporary and the journey is not endless. In a world of global migration, that means Christians need to think, speak, and act eschatologically. When we work to create places in which all can be transformed by the love of God, when we preach the truth that all are invited to be part of God’s royal priesthood, then we are pointing the way to the destination which God wills for us all.
At Montreal Dio, many of our students find themselves on a journey. Their time at the college occurs in the midst of a period of discernment about their future vocation in the church. Like many before them, they wrestle with the reality of God’s call to ministry and how it is worked out in their lives and in the world around them. They have come this far by faith but continue to need the sustenance the college provides as they take the next step in their vocational journeys.
But the college is not here only to provide support along the way. In prayer and in study, in conversation and in community life, in field placements and elsewhere, we also form leaders who can create destinations that others seek. The church needs clergy and lay people who can create places that provide people with identity and dignity, that are open and permeable to all comers, that honour and cherish what has come before in that place, and that are shaped by the particular context of each location. In other words, the church needs people who can invest their local congregations with the sense of purpose and vitality that comes from the knowledge that here in this place we catch glimpses of the Kingdom of God and want others to join us in our common life. At the college, we form leaders who understand that the migratory nature of Christianity means we are always on a journey—but who also understand that Christian ministry is about providing a vision of the destination God wills for us all.
News reports and political discourse can often make it seem that migration is primarily something that other kinds of people do—particularly people from poorer countries, who speak different languages or have different colour skin. In fact, the witness of our Christian tradition reminds us that we are all migrants. It is in claiming that identity that Christians may find the grace and the faithfulness to continue to proclaim good news to a changing world.
Faithfully yours in Christ