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Oct 30, 2015 | Tali Folkins

Canadian church's 'red tape challenge' raises funds for Syrian refugees

A London, Ontario church is raising money for Syrian refugees at lightning speed—thanks, at least partly, to a very Canadian household material.


As of October 15, St. Aidan’s Anglican Church had raised roughly $35,000 for refugee sponsorship since the beginning of its “Red Tape Challenge” this fall. The appeal asks participants, after making their donations, to tear a piece of red duct tape and attach it to their vehicles, rural mailbox or other prominent place.


The point of the tape, says John Davidson, the St. Aidan’s parishioner who came up with the idea, is to pressure the federal government to reduce barriers to refugees in Canada – “to show Ottawa that yes, you can cut through red tape if want to get the job done.”


The rector of St. Aidan’s, the Rev. Canon Kevin George, says the appeal began after a sermon he preached the Sunday after the first publication of the photo of three-year-old Alan Kurdi’s lifeless body on a Turkish beach.


“I preached that Sunday from James 2 about how we’re called to be a people who don’t just speak about faith but who act upon those things, particularly with respect to how James says that mercy triumphs over judgment,” George says.


Immediately after the service, Davidson approached him with the “red tape” concept. “He walked up to me and said, ‘I think I have an idea’,” George says.


Davidson is an accomplished fundraiser. In the mid-1990s, he pushed his son Jesse – afflicted with Duchenne muscular dystrophy – across Ontario, then walked across Canada to raise money to fight the disease. Davidson then founded a charity, Jesse’s Journey, which has since raised more than $20 million.


“People tend to listen” to Davidson when he stands up and makes a plea to raise money for a cause, George says.


Parishioners were already feeling very moved by the photo of little Alan, and a flurry of fundraising ensued on the spot. They raised $17,000 by the end of coffee hour that day.


“I’ve been doing priestly ministry for 20 years and I can’t remember ever doing anything where people responded so quickly with so much.”


By the following Tuesday, Davidson had made a “Red Tape Challenge” Facebook page with a short video. A week later, the appeal had raised $30,000.


“We had people in our neighborhood who don’t belong to our church take the challenge,” George says. One of these people donated $5,000; George let his congregation know about the donation, and said he hoped someone in the parish would match it—which they did.


Initially planning to sponsor one family, the parish has begun paperwork to help resettle two families, George said.


Taking part in the challenge is easy, Davidson says, because so many places of worship are trying to raise funds for refugees. Donors can simply slip their donation, enclosed in an envelope, into a church mail slot.


“There are more churches than Tim Hortons [donut shops] and they’ve got better parking,” he says. “So stick it in there, just write the name of the church—for me, I was making mine to St. Aidan’s, and I wrote ‘St. Aidan’s Church—refugee fund.’ They’ll know what to do with it.”


Davidson says he hopes the challenge, in addition to raising money, will help encourage Ottawa to speed up the resettlement of refugees, so that many more can be allowed into Canada.


“I’m all for a bit of scrutiny to find out who you’re getting,” he says. “I just thought, ‘Wow we’ve got to do better than that.’”


George says he and other organizers are heartened by Immigration Minister Chris Alexander’s announcement in September of plans to, in his own words, “cut red tape” and speed up the processing of refugees. Ottawa will undertake new measures that will allow 10,000 Syrian refugees to be admitted by September 2016, instead of the federal government’s promise in January of doing so within three years, Alexander says.


But organizers think much more can still be done, George says. He points to a recent call on Ottawa by retired general Rick Hillier to bring in 50,000 refugees over the next three months—a number that is really not as large as it may seem, George says, given Canada’s size.


“Fifty thousand represents just a little more than what we would put in a Blue Jays game—right across the nation,” he says.


George and Davidson say they hope the Red Tape Challenge will be picked up by other faith leaders in the London area, or even nationwide.


“Wouldn’t it be great if every church in this country was ready and able to raise that kind of money and say, ‘we’re standing by, send us people who need the help and we’ll help them?,” Davidson says. “And I think you’ll find a few years down the road these people are great contributors to the country.”


First printed online by Anglican Journal and reprinted here with permission. Read more at