On Oct. 25, 2022, members and friends of the Anglican Church Women (ACW) met at St John the Baptist, Duncan, to sort and pack donations for our outreach to the Diocese of Caledonia. This year, boxes were sent to the villages of Old Massett on Haida Gwaii, Port Edward, and Vanderhoof (including Fort St James and Fraser Lake).
This joyous annual gifting has taken place for more than 160 years. There was a news item in the British Colonist of 1861 about ladies gathering at Christ Church Cathedral, Victoria, to pack “bales” — large shipments wrapped in canvas and tightly twined — for Caledonia and then socialize over tea. These were shipped to Prince Rupert, and from there, those designated for the Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii) continued by sea, and the ones for the interior of British Columbia by whatever means were available. Today, the donations travel in taped cardboard packing boxes and go by air to Prince Rupert.
Unfortunately, we have many fewer ACW branches now and many of our members are unable to contribute in the ways they did in the past due to their advancing years. Also, the number of parishes in Caledonia able to distribute the contributions has shrunk to one quarter of the number in 1998 when I began working with Dorcas. For instance, John Martinson, a long-time priest who was looking after the boxes for Port Edward, passed away in 2013. It is now time to bid adieu and give thanks to all the people who made this mission such a success for over 16 decades. The ACW executive urges parishes not to give up these good works but to concentrate on needs closer to home.
When we talk about Dorcas, we think of our mission to the Diocese of Caledonia, but who was this woman in real life? In Acts 9:36–43, she is described as a lady of good works. She lived in Joppa, now known as Jaffa, by Tel Aviv, and was a member of the church established there by Philip the Evangelist. It was famous as a centre of evangelism and social service. Dorcas, a woman of means, did not just donate money, but used her hands and sewed for those less fortunate, particularly widows and children. When she later passed away, Dorcas had no relatives to attend to her remains, so widows she had befriended helped at her funeral. Great grief enveloped the town. Learning that St Peter was nearby, the church at Joppa sent two men to ask him to come to the town. When he arrived, the widows reverently displayed the coats and other garments Dorcas had made for them. Peter was so moved that he raised her from the dead to continue her good works, bringing comfort and joy to the people of the town. This miracle of mercy convinced many of the truth of the Christian faith.
Dorcas was unaware of the magnificence of the work she was doing and its far-reaching consequences. She did not strive to be a leader but was content to work quietly and with humility. Her story, though, has been an inspiration to many. Using a humble sewing needle, she showed that no works are too small in God’s eyes.
Dorcas societies have grown up around the world to meet the needs of those in their communities and farther afield. Now the time has come for us to use our skills in knitting, crocheting, sewing and quilting to work on projects for those in need. After the isolation of COVID-19, it is important to continue to help others, especially the lonely. Keep safe, follow the health protocols, and be joyous in your good works.