The new executive director of KAIROS, Jennifer Henry. Photo by Michael Swan

KAIROS chooses new leader

By 
  • February 22, 2012

TORONTO - As she takes over as executive director of KAIROS, Jennifer Henry’s priority is keeping the ecumenical social justice organization close to its roots in Canada’s churches.

“My commitment is to preserve the ecumenical character of this organization and I think that’s also the commitment of people around the board table,” Henry told The Catholic Register.

Henry becomes the second executive director in KAIROS’s history March 12 when she takes over from Mary Corkery.

The 44-year-old Henry has actually been with KAIROS longer than it has existed. She started almost 20 years ago as a contract employee of the Ecumenical Coalition for Economic Justice. ECAJ and nine other church-run coalitions were eventually folded into KAIROS in 1999.

Keeping KAIROS wedded to the churches and religious orders that spawned it is a challenge when churches are struggling to scrape the money together to fund it. 

“We have to anticipate that denominational resources are going to be stretched and that support to KAIROS may decrease,” Henry said. “It’s not just financial. It’s people too.”

In the near term, KAIROS isn’t going to have Canadian International Development Agency money to fund projects with overseas partners. That door was closed when International Development Minister Bev Oda told somebody to insert a “not” into a funding agreement senior CIDA staff had already signed off on. The controversy that ensued pushed it onto national headlines.

“We have come through it stronger. Every crisis helps you articulate your vision in a clearer way. It gives you the opportunity to pull together. It gives you the opportunity to express your hope,” said Henry. “We were also able to get a message out to the Canadian public about who we are.”

But it’s time to move on.

“There’s a danger in being known only in relation to this crisis,” she said.

Henry believes KAIROS is all about the Christian value of hope.

“We demonstrate our hope in the action we take in the world. As we take action in the world and that brings about change, we generate in ourselves and in communities greater hope,” she said.

Hope gets spread out over a lot of issues for this tiny non-profit with a staff of 20. But these days the focus at KAIROS is on three big themes — indigenous and migrant rights, resource extraction and climate justice.

Henry’s whole career has been spent with the high ideals and deep passions of the Church’s mission. As a teenager, her first job was Christian education worker at St. Alban’s Anglican Church in Winnipeg. She went on to work in summer youth programs for the United Church. After her Master’s in Social Work she briefly worked for the York Children’s Aid Society, then on to ECAJ.

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