Canada: Spirit of Truth Church (STC), Toronto Iranian Christian Church, Summit Community Church, Church of St. Luke - Lutheran (St. Luke's), Mohabat Alliance Church and Richmond Hill Persian Community Alliance Ministry, including how the churches verify the genuineness of the practitioners, how the churches determine that an individual is ready for baptism, what preparation is involved in being baptized, who is entitled to sign a certificate of baptism, samples of baptism certificates, and whether the churches will issue support letters, including requirements and procedures to do so (2018–January 2021) [CAN200424.E]

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada

1. STC

According to the website of the STC, the church is located in North York, Ontario, has a Farsi-speaking congregation, and holds services at the church facility of the North York Salvation Army (STC n.d.).

The information in the following paragraphs was provided by the servants team of the STC in correspondence with the Research Directorate:

Individuals are "consider[ed]" Christian when they attend church services "regular[ly]"; participate during services by asking and answering questions; practice the "fruits of the Holy Spirit," including "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control," "[a]s much as possible"; and make a "[c]ommitment to serve fellow believers" and other people "as much as possible." Membership at the STC is reserved for Canadian citizens, permanent residents and individuals who have "gone through the immigration process."

When a practitioner declares that they are ready for baptism, the church verifies whether the individual is a Canadian permanent resident or citizen, then interviews the practitioner to ensure that they "understan[d] the meaning and purpose of baptism." The interview includes testing for "fundamental knowledge of Christianity." The church offers a class called the "'Principles of Christianity'," which includes "baptism sessions." The length of time it takes for the practitioner to learn and become ready for baptism varies from person to person.

"[A]s a common practice, our Pastor or servants team only confirms the baptism of an individual when it is [required] by legal governmental authorities." The church's requirements in order to issue a letter of support include the following:

  • the individual "regularly" attends Bible studies and services;
  • the individual participates actively by asking and answering questions;
  • the individual has been attending for "long enough" that "some sort of transformation as a follower of Christ" can be observed. The length of time it takes for the "transformation" to take place varies from person to person;
  • the individual has made a "[c]ommitment to serve fellow believers" and others "as much as possible" (STC 26 Nov. 2020).

In follow-up correspondence with the Research Directorate, the same source added that in support letters issued to

lawyers or directly to the Immigration and Refugee Board, we use bold and highlighted words like "regular attendee" or "active" intentionally but in other cases we simply point out the attending or baptism of an individual without any bold or highlighted words because that individual dramatically reversed in his/her attitude after baptism. (STC 8 Dec. 2020, emphasis in original)

2. Toronto Iranian Christian Church

According to the website of the Toronto Iranian Christian Church, it is a non-denominational church located in North York, Ontario, whose "main purpose" is to "evangelize" and "communicate the Gospel of Jesus Christ" to Iranian and Afghan Muslims in Canada and other countries (Toronto Iranian Christian Church n.d.).

The information in the following paragraphs was provided by a pastor of the Toronto Iranian Christian Church in correspondence with the Research Directorate:

Regarding how the church verifies the genuineness of the practitioners, they "accept or reject the person by asking, talking or feeling."

To be baptized, the practitioner is required to attend church services for "at least one or two months" before submitting an application for baptism to a church pastor or deacon. To be baptized, the individual must believe in Jesus Christ as "Lord and Savior," declare their faith in Jesus Christ publicly at the church, and attend baptism lessons "regular[ly]."

The church issues a letter of support to the practitioner after they are baptized. The letter is based on the person's history in Canada, including their church attendance, volunteer work, and commitment to the church and its needs, and not on their experiences in their country of origin. The "[l]etter and certificate" are signed by the Pastor (Toronto Iranian Christian Church 4 Dec. 2020).

A sample of the baptism certificate of the Toronto Iranian Christian Church could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

3. Summit Community Church

According to the website of the Summit Community Church, it is located in Richmond Hill, Ontario; holds Sunday services at the Richmond Green High School; and is a part of the Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) [1] in Canada (Summit Community Church n.d.).

The information in the following paragraphs was provided by the Executive Pastor and Lead Pastor of the Summit Community Church in an interview with the Research Directorate:

To determine whether an individual is a genuine Christian, Summit Community Church uses indicators such as how the individual articulates their personal story, including their belief in and commitment to Jesus Christ, and whether they have demonstrated that personal commitment through a public baptism in water. Additional evidence may include the individual's membership in the church and their commitment of time and resources to church activities.

The church offers a 13-week "Alpha" class, which provides an opportunity for participants to learn about Christianity with coaches and engage with the faith on a personal level. The class is not mandatory. There is a two-week baptism class following the Alpha class, after which the individual becomes eligible for baptism. The baptism "generally" takes place within four weeks after the baptism class. The individual is required to make a "profession of faith" before the baptism. "The church would not baptize someone who is not ready to commit to the faith."

The certificate of baptism is signed by one of the pastoral staff who is a licensed worker within the denomination. The C&MA is responsible for the licensing process. The certificates have a uniform appearance and are manually filled out.

A letter of support is issued to an individual who has completed the Alpha and baptism classes and has undergone baptism. The letter is "generic" and affirms that the individual was baptized and made a profession of faith. Exceptions have been made for individuals who have demonstrated their faith through involvement in the church and commitment of time and resources to church activities, such as by providing Farsi translation for church services; the church has provided letters to such individuals. "The church would not write letters for people that they do not know" (Summit Community Church 15 Dec. 2020).

A sample of the baptism certificate of the Summit Community Church could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

4. St. Luke's

According to their website, St. Luke's is located in North York, Ontario, and is a part of the English District [2] of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (St. Luke's n.d.a). An undated notice on the St. Luke's website indicates that, in accordance with the recommendations of the Chief Medical Officer of Ontario, all in-person services at the church are "postponed until further notice" and services will be live streamed instead (St. Luke's n.d.b).

The information in the following paragraphs was provided by a pastor at St. Luke's in a telephone interview with the Research Directorate:

While the church believes that a person's faith is an internal matter, there are three external indicators which they can use to gauge a person's faith:

  • their "connection and engagement with the worshipping community," including whether they regularly attend services or Bible study;
  • their "relationship with others in the congregation," including whether they are known by others and whether they have developed friendships. The longer an individual has been a part of the congregation, the more connections they are expected to have developed with the church community; and
  • their "willingness and availability to strengthen their relationship with individuals outside the church," including whether they participate in outreach activities or evangelize and whether they volunteer to serve in the community when given an opportunity.

Adults who wish to be baptized are required to attend church services and Bible study for four months. At the end of the four months, they are given the option to attend an eight-week baptism class with 16 total hours of instruction, which teaches the core principles of the Christian faith. At the conclusion of the class, there is a multiple-choice test on basic information about Christianity.

St. Luke's issues two types of baptism certificate, one for children and one for adults, which look "very similar" and have the same graphics. For children, the certificate includes the child's name, the date of baptism and the parents' names. For adults, the certificate includes the person's name and the date of baptism. The certificates are signed by two people. The top line of the certificate is signed by a pastor of the church, usually the pastor who performed the baptism. The second line is signed by an elder of the church (a lay member) as a witness; the elder is usually the person who introduced the individual being baptized to the church. Both types of certificate are uniform in appearance. A sample of a certificate of baptism (for adults), provided by the pastor at St. Luke's church, is attached to this Response (Attachment 1).

St. Luke's issues letters of support to their members. The person must have completed the requirements for baptism. Before the letter is issued, the requestor is invited to the church for an interview, where they are asked basic questions about their "life story and experience with the Christian faith," such as whether they were familiar with Christianity in their country of origin (Pastor 3 Dec. 2020).

5. Mohabat Alliance Church

The website of the Mohabat Alliance Church indicates that it is located in North York, Ontario, and adds, in an undated notice, that Sunday services are streamed live because of the COVID-19 pandemic (Mohabat Alliance Church n.d.).

In correspondence with the Research Directorate, representatives of the Mohabat Alliance Church indicated that individuals are welcome to participate in the church's weekly worship and take part in small groups for studying the Bible (Mohabat Alliance Church 30 Nov. 2020). Regarding how the church determines whether someone is a genuine Christian, the same source responded that as the individual becomes "involved in the life of the church family," it will be clear whether their faith and "relationship with [Jesus]" is "growing and deepening" (Mohabat Alliance Church 30 Nov. 2020).

A fall 2020 pamphlet on preparing for baptism by the Mohabat Alliance Church, provided to the Research Directorate by representatives of the church, states that practitioners are ready for baptism when they have "come to Jesus" and "responded to Jesus in repentance and belief" (Mohabat Alliance Church Fall 2020, 1). The representatives of the church noted that practitioners who are ready for baptism are required to attend baptism classes (Mohabat Alliance Church 30 Nov. 2020). The fall 2020 pamphlet indicates that there are four sessions of the baptism class, taking place over four weeks and covering the following topics:

  • Week One – "Who is Jesus Christ?"
  • Week Two – "Who am I before … and after receiving Jesus Christ?"
  • Week Three – "The [p]ower of [o]ur [t]estimony"
  • Week Four – "The [i]ns and [o]uts of [b]aptism" (Mohabat Alliance Church Fall 2020, 2).

The pamphlet adds that the practitioner will prepare a "testimony" and share parts of it at their baptism (Mohabat Alliance Church Fall 2020, 5).

The representatives of the church indicated that each person receives a baptism certificate at their baptism (Mohabat Alliance Church 30 Nov. 2020). The same source added that the certificates are uniform in appearance and signed by the Lead Pastor and the Discipleship Pastor of the Mohabat Alliance Church (Mohabat Alliance Church 30 Nov. 2020). A template of a certificate of baptism, provided by representatives of the Mohabat Alliance Church, is attached to this Response (Attachment 2).

The representatives of the Mohabat Alliance Church noted that their church treats membership as separate from baptism (Mohabat Alliance Church 30 Nov. 2020). The same source added the following:

We are a member church of C&MA in Canada; therefore, all members must affirm the statement of faith of the C&MA in Canada. Once each year, we have a Membership Sunday in which we ask those who are already members to renew their membership. At this time, we welcome new members in what we call: "Extending the Right Hand of Fellowship." On this Membership Sunday, we ask all those who desire to become members or renew their membership to sign the C&MA Canada Statement of Faith and the Covenant of Peace. (Mohabat Alliance Church 30 Nov. 2020)

Copies of the C&MA in Canada Statement of Faith and the Covenant of Peace, Love and Unity, provided by representatives of the Mohabat Alliance Church, are attached to this Response (Attachments 3 and 4).

The representatives of the Mohabat Alliance Church indicated that they provide a "standard letter on Mohabat Alliance Church stationary" to individuals who are baptized; the letter states that "they are attending the Mohabat Church and are getting involved in the life of the Church" (Mohabat Alliance Church 30 Nov. 2020).

6. Richmond Hill Persian Community Alliance Ministry

The information in the following paragraphs was provided by the Lead Pastor at the Richmond Hill Persian Community Alliance Ministry in correspondence with the Research Directorate:

Church services and Bible study are taking place virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In order to verify the genuineness of a practitioner, the church observes whether the practitioner regularly attends Sunday church service and Bible study. Additionally, during Bible study classes, where the practitioner is encouraged to ask and answer questions, the responses of the practitioner are used to determine "how they display their belief in their everyday lives."

A practitioner is deemed eligible for baptism when they have attended Sunday services and Bible studies for six months or more and have enrolled in a baptism class. The baptism class assesses the participant's "knowledge and understanding of the Bible and what it means to be a Christian." After completing the class, each participant is interviewed by the Lead Pastor to test their "knowledge and faith in Christ." The Board of Elders [3] is subsequently notified and, "upon approval," the practitioner can be baptized.

The certificate of baptism is signed by an "accredited individual, who is appointed and approved by the [B]oard of [E]lders" under the C&MA. Each certificate is reviewed and approved by the Board. A template of the certificate of baptism, provided by the Lead Pastor of the Richmond Hill Persian Community Alliance Ministry, is attached to this Response (Attachment 5).

The church has "not issued any letter of support" to a practitioner "to date" (Richmond Hill Persian Community Alliance Ministry 12 Dec. 2020).

In a follow-up interview with the Research Directorate, representatives of the Richmond Hill Persian Community Alliance Ministry added that the C&MA in Canada is responsible for overseeing "everything," including appointing the Board of Elders and providing and approving the certificate of baptism (Richmond Hill Persian Community Alliance Ministry 8 Jan. 2021). The website of the C&MA in Canada indicates that each district office "oversees the licensing, ordination, and supervision of the workers" and provides "resources and guidance for local Alliance churches," including in "pastoral care," in each of their six geographic district offices located across Canada (C&MA in Canada n.d.b).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

Notes

[1] The Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) in Canada's website states that it is "a group of approximately 440 local churches across Canada" (C&MA in Canada n.d.a).

[2] The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod consists of 35 districts, including the English District; the English District has congregations in 1 Canadian province and 20 US states (English District of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod n.d.).

[3] Article 8.1 of the Local Church Constitution of the C&MA in Canada provides the following:

The highest functioning authority of the local church shall be the Board of Elders which may be called by another name and is herein referred to as the 'Board'. Board members shall be elected, and along with the senior pastor, will provide oversight of the ministry and operation of the local church. Criteria for membership on the Board are the biblical qualifications of elders. (C&MA in Canada 2004)

References

The Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) in Canada. 2004 (amended 2018). Local Church Constitution. [Accessed 14 Dec. 2020]

The Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) in Canada. N.d.a. "Who We Are." [Accessed 25 Nov. 2020]

The Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) in Canada. N.d.b. "Districts and Partners." [Accessed 8 Jan. 2021]

Church of St. Luke - Lutheran (St. Luke's). N.d.a. "About Us." [Accessed 24 Nov. 2020]

Church of St. Luke - Lutheran (St. Luke's). N.d.b. "Services." [Accessed 24 Nov. 2020]

English District of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. N.d. "History." [Accessed 18 Dec. 2020]

Mohabat Alliance Church. 30 November 2020. Correspondence from representatives to the Research Directorate.

Mohabat Alliance Church. Fall 2020. Preparing for Your Baptism. Sent to the Research Directorate by representatives of the Mohabat Alliance Church, 30 November 2020.

Mohabat Alliance Church. N.d. "Welcome to Mohabat Alliance Church." [Accessed 18 Dec. 2020]

Pastor, Church of St. Luke – Lutheran (St. Luke's). 3 December 2020. Telephone interview with the Research Directorate.

Richmond Hill Persian Community Alliance Ministry. 8 January 2021. Interview with representatives.

Richmond Hill Persian Community Alliance Ministry. 12 December 2020. Correspondence from the Lead Pastor to the Research Directorate.

Spirit of Truth Church (STC). 8 December 2020. Correspondence from the servants team to the Research Directorate.

Spirit of Truth Church (STC). 26 November 2020. Correspondence from the servants team to the Research Directorate.

Spirit of Truth Church (STC). N.d. "All About Spirit of Truth Church." [Accessed 26 Nov. 2020]

Summit Community Church. 15 December 2020. Interview with the Executive Pastor and Lead Pastor.

Summit Community Church. N.d. "About." [Accessed 24 Nov. 2020]

Toronto Iranian Christian Church. 4 December 2020. Correspondence from a pastor to the Research Directorate.

Toronto Iranian Christian Church. N.d. "About Us." [Accessed 25 Nov. 2020]

Additional Sources Consulted

Internet sites, including: C2C Collective; Canadian Church Directory; The Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada – Central Canadian District; Christianity.ca; ChurchFinder; Facebook; Factiva; FarsiNet; Instagram; Internet Archive – Wayback Machine; LinkedIn; LocalPrayers; The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod; New Ventures; UReach Toronto; Yellow Pages; YouTube.

Attachments

  1. Church of St. Luke – Lutheran (St. Luke's). N.d. Sample of a baptism certificate for adult. Sent to the Research Directorate by a pastor of the Church of St. Luke – Lutheran, 3 December 2020.
  2. Mohabat Alliance Church. N.d. Template of a Certificate of Baptism. Sent to the Research Directorate by representatives of the Mohabat Alliance Church, 30 November 2020.
  3. The Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) in Canada. 1 October 2008. Statement of Faith. Sent to the Research Directorate by representatives of the Mohabat Alliance Church, 30 November 2020.
  4. The Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) in Canada. N.d. Covenant of Peace, Love and Unity. Sent to the Research Directorate by representatives of the Mohabat Alliance Church, 30 November 2020.
  5. Richmond Hill Persian Community Alliance Ministry. N.d. Template of a Certificate of Baptism. Sent to the Research Directorate by the lead pastor of the Richmond Hill Persian Community Alliance Ministry, 12 December 2020.