It has been a long journey for the Reverend Feras Shammas from his original home in Syria to his new home in Morrisburg, Canada.
While he has only been the spiritual leader of Knox Presbyterian Church in Morrisburg for a little over two months, Reverend Shammas has already begun to feel at ease in his new parish. “Everybody has been very good to me. They have made me feel like family, at home. I am very grateful to the church and to this community for taking in a newcomer and making him feel welcome.”
Reverend Shammas was born in the ancient city of Damascus, now the capital of modern Syria. However, he was brought up in the equally historic city of Aleppo, the largest city in Syria, in the northern part of the nation.
“Aleppo is a very old city,” Rev. Shammas explained, “a place where many different ethnic groups live. There is a very large Christian community there.” He attended high school in Aleppo, until he made the personal decision to move to Beirut, Lebanon, in 1993-4, to attend the Near East School of Theology, where he earned his B.A. in theology, with a major in New Testament studies.
Rev. Shammas feels that he received the call to the ministry at a very early age.
“In Aleppo I attended a school which had been founded by American Protestant missionaries. My mom actually taught at the school, and my dad was on the school board. Both of my brothers (one older, one younger) and I went there. Every day began with morning chapel, and I experienced the preaching of a wonderful chaplain. I was still in elementary school when I felt that I wanted to work in the Church. Over time, the call just grew within me.”
When he announced his desire, as a child, to enter the Presbyterian ministry, his family “thought the desire might fade with time. But by high school, they understood that I was really committed and were very supportive. There is a very strong Presbyterian tradition in my family. My father is an elder, my brother a church musician. However,” he added with a laugh, “I am not sure they were quite expecting to produce a full minister.”
Shammas began his ministry in 1999, in both Syria and Lebanon, serving and working in a number of churches. His last church in the Middle East was in Syria, by the coast, in Lattakia City. “We had a congregation made up of over 600 families. I was chair of the church board, and the senior pastor. I also had youth and choir pastors.”
The nature of life in the Middle East meant that Feras’ family was often separated, far away from each other. For more than 15 years, his brothers and parents and he were in various parts of Europe and the Gulf.
“We made a decision as a family that we were going to be together again. We decided that we would all go to North America.”
By this time, Rev. Shammas was married, and had two daughters.
“I met my wife, Reine, at college, where she was also studying theology. But in the Middle East it is still not possible for a woman to be ordained, despite her degree. We wanted to come to a nation where we could be equals, and she could also be ordained. We wanted a place of equality, a place where she could serve the church.”
The couple decided that in North America that would be possible. With emigration in mind, they actually chose the names Cynthia and Amy (ages 10 and eight) for their daughters.
“I had a college friend, a minister in Kemptville. We talked about my coming here. So I applied to the Presbyterian Church in Canada, and well, here I am,” Shammas laughed.
However, the young minister did have to cope with a difficult situation. He had gone ahead to Canada, preparing for his family to join him. However, just as his wife and daughters were to be issued their visas, there was a massive Civil Service strike.
The great news is that Reine and the girls have now safely made it to Canada. With the arrival of Feras’ wife and children, the entire Shammas family can finally realize their dream of being together in North America.
The Reverend Shammas is very happy, and settling well into his new church family. “Presbyterian traditions are very alike, no matter where in the world the church is,” he explained. “These traditions and ways of doing things, even the similar hymns, meant that I could feel at home in this church and with these people almost immediately.
Knox has been looking for a new spirit, with a goal of bringing families and young people back to the church. I’m going to be deeply involved in this. Knox Presbyterian Church is part of a beautiful family, and it deserves my hard work.”