Investing in immigrant and multicultural communities: Q&A with Canon Jean Baptiste Ntagengwa

A workshop for anyone who wants to learn more about immigration issues and opportunities for involvement is coming up on Saturday, March 28, 4-7 p.m., hosted at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Acton by Bishop Gayle E. Harris and the Rev. Canon Dr. Jean Baptiste Ntagengwa.  (Find details and RSVP here.)  

Jean Baptiste Ntagengwa Tracy J. Sukraw The Rev. Canon Dr. Jean Baptiste Ntagengwa, at last June's World Refugee Day event at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Mattapan.

Ntagengwa's position as canon for immigration and multicultural ministries, which he's held for just under a year, was created in response to the diocesan mission strategy, and the upcoming workshop is part of the relationship-building and awareness-raising efforts necessary for laying the groundwork for future ministry, he said in a recent interview, excerpted below.  "The mission strategy makes a commitment to invest in ministry with immigrant communities and communities of color, so what do we need to be developing and doing together to accomplish that?  There is a lot of listening that we need to do, and relationships that need to be created."   

Ntagengwa spent his early years in Rwanda, where much of his extended family still lives.  He holds a certificate in accounting and economics from the Ecole d’Economie et de Commerce de Janja, in Ruhengeri, Rwanda, and a Bachelor of Divinity degree from St. Paul’s United Theological College in Limuru, Kenya.  He was ordained to the priesthood in the Anglican diocese of Embu, Kenya.  

Before fleeing in 1994 to Zaire, where he coordinated a small refugee camp at Eveche Anglican de Bukavu for a year, Ntagengwa held different leadership positions in Rwanda as financial administrator of an Episcopal hospital, regional representative in Butare of Banques Populaires and as a chaplain of a high school in Musanze.

In 1999, he moved to Boston, where he completed his master’s degree in theological studies at Harvard Divinity School in 2001 and his doctorate in ethics and missions at Boston University in 2008.  His dissertation, “Cycles of Violence in Rwanda:  Ethical Leadership and Ethnic Justice,” explores theological and ethical models for relationship that could be useful in curtailing centuries of violence in that nation.   Before taking on his current position, Ntagengwa served the diocese as director of transition ministries for six years.  Prior to that he served at various parishes, including as an assistant priest at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Mattapan and as priest-in-charge at St. John St. James Church in Roxbury.  He also worked with the Refugee Immigration Ministry in Malden as case manager and director of direct care.

He and his wife, Christine, live in Everett and have three children, Jean-Fidele, Peace and Moses, and one grandson, Josiah.

How do you describe your ministry in your new role as canon for immigration and multicultural ministries?  Can we still call it new?
Yes, it is still new, less than a year, because I started effectively in April, after a sabbatical leave at the conclusion of my work in transition ministry, which is now being done by the regional canons.  And it's new because it is coming from the diocesan mission strategy and it is still evolving.  The mission strategy makes a commitment to invest in ministry with immigrant communities and communities of color, so what do we need to be developing and doing together to accomplish that?  There is a lot of listening that we need to do, and relationships that need to be created.

Are there specific areas of opportunity that you see emerging?
One has to do with immigration itself, and it's to continue to educate our diocese, not just about immigration issues and what's happening, but educating about Episcopal Church immigration ministry and resources and ways to get involved in what the church is already doing.  That includes EMM, Episcopal Migration Ministries, and OGR, the church's Office of Government Relations.  That's what our advocacy trip to D.C. in December with other dioceses of Province I was about, and that's why I've been having some workshops around the diocese, one in October at St. Barnabas's in Falmouth and another one coming up next month, on March 28, in Acton.  These follow the World Refugee Day event last June at Church of the Holy Spirit in Mattapan.  I've also been working through World Relief to complete the training and application to be accredited by the Department of Justice to practice some aspects of immigration law.  This will add to the knowledge available and be another resource for support.

A second area is immigrant congregations and communities.  I have been working with worshiping communities receiving or eligible to receive diocesan African Ministry Grants, which include Grace Chapel in Brockton, Trinity Church in Randolph, Christ Church in Hyde Park, St. Peter's Church in Waltham, St. Stephen's Church in Lynn and Grace Church in Everett.  I also work with them in collaboration with our African Clergy Caucus and their families.  This is a very active group organizing social activities and a very successful annual retreat in December at the Barbara C. Harris Camp and Conference Center.

Additionally, in collaboration with the Hispanic Ministry Committee, I am working with congregations that receive diocesan Hispanic Ministry Grants:  St. Luke's-San Lucas in Chelsea, Grace Church in Lawrence, St. Anne's Church in Lowell, St. Mary's Church in Dorchester, St. Peter's-San Pedro in Salem and Iglesia San Juan in Hyde Park.

The Chinese congregation at our Cathedral Church of St. Paul is yet another immigrant community receiving the support of our diocese through this office, and they are putting together ideas for their way forward.
There may be other churches with communities of immigrants, people that might need ministry, that we don't know of yet.  There is work to do in building up our Episcopal Church community in this diocese in some new ways with these churches and communities.

Another area is our seven historically black churches.  There are three in Roxbury, St. John St. James, the Church of St. Augustine and St. Martin, and St. Cyprian's; St. Mark's Church and St. Mary's Church, both in Dorchester; and Holy Spirit in Mattapan and St. Bartholomew's in Cambridge.  I have been working with Bishop Gayle Harris on this, and since I started in April, we have had three summits to see what we can do together and how we can share resources.  These have been well attended, and I see a lot of energy there in terms of relationships and supporting each other.  

We also need members of our immigrant and multicultural communities to be part of the leadership of the diocese, and my hope is to bring people together in different ways to start talking and coming to know each other.  Then when there is a leadership need somewhere, there are people we know who are actively committed to the work and whom we can call upon.

Where do you see Jesus in all of this?
I see Jesus moving in these gatherings, in these communities, in the immigration workshops, especially when we are talking about the topic of neighbor.  The Jesus Movement that our presiding bishop talks about is all about creating relationships and loving each other, even those who are not really loveable.  I recall that Martin Luther King Jr. said that love is the only force that transforms enemies into friends.  Jesus is in all this.  

What is your invitation to the diocesan community around this ministry?
My invitation to the wider community of the diocese is that everybody feel a part of this, and if they have questions or ideas to be in touch with me.  We are in a time when we need to come together to do the work of God together. 

The Rev. Canon Dr. Jean Baptiste Ntagengwa can be reached at or 617-482-4826, ext. 400.