There’s been a lot in the news this week – not the least of which for us in our Diocese was the release of the slate of candidates for our next bishop! I hope you are all reading their statements and answers to the questions posed to them by the Search and Nomination Committee. Remember to keep those walk-about dates open, too! It’s so important that those representing you at the Special Convention on June 1st hear from you and know your thoughts on these very qualified individuals.
We also regularly hear about the long lines of people seeking asylum in the US. In my mind, for a family to leave their homeland and travel sometimes thousands of miles in hope of finding a safe and welcoming place to live, the situation at home would have to be very serious and dangerous. Not surprisingly, The Episcopal Church has much to say about how these refugees and asylum seekers are treated because our Scriptures have much to say also:
The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:34
Thus says the Lord of hosts: Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another. Zechariah 7:9-10
In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all. Colossians 3:11
In fact, the Sojourners’ website list 22 verses addressing our need to welcome those we count as strangers. Church World Service has also prepared a one-page Bible study exploring some of these verses.
Last week there was an article on the Episcopal News Service (ENS) website about an Episcopal congregation that was working to support a Congolese family as the father seeks asylum and faces the risk of deportation. St Luke’s Episcopal Church in San Diego celebrated last week when a temporary stay of deportation was issued while officials reopen his case. Because Constantin Bakala was aligned with an opposition party in the Democratic Republic of Congo, he and his family fled their homeland for fear of persecution. He fears that if he is deported he will likely be killed.
Rev. Colin Mathewson, Vicar of St Luke’s, told ENS that the family has been warmly welcomed into the life of their congregation. Some of the children serve as acolytes and sing in the choir. St Luke’s is a mix of native-born Americans, Sudanese immigrant families and, more recently, Congolese refugees. Rev. Mathewson reports that this has been a transformative experience for all of them at St Luke’s.
At General Convention 2018, we passed Resolution C009: Becoming a Sanctuary Church which asks all of us to consider how we welcome the strangers in our midst:
Resolved, That the 79th General Convention of The Episcopal Church, in obedience to the many biblical injunctions imploring us not to wrong or oppress the alien in our midst and Jesus’ own mandate to extend care for the stranger, and in accordance with our Baptismal Covenant, reaffirms resolution 2015-D057 supporting the New Sanctuary Movement; and be it further
Resolved, That The Episcopal Church urge its members, as people of faith and people of conscience, pledge to challenge and question any unjust immigration law, policy, or practice that is inconsistent with our biblical mandate to “not wrong or oppress a resident alien” (Exodus 22:21); and be it further
Resolved, That The Episcopal Church recommend that its institutions and congregations become places of welcome, refuge, healing, and other forms of material and pastoral support for those targeted for deportation due to immigration status or some perceived status of difference, and that we work alongside our friends, families, and neighbors to ensure the dignity and human rights of all people; and be it further
Resolved, That The Episcopal Church encourage its members to connect with local and national sanctuary communities and institutions, faith-based coalitions, and immigrant rights groups and coalitions, and engage in educating, organizing, advocacy, and direct action, and other methods as deemed appropriate in each context, to ensure the safety, security, and due process for immigrants, with a focus on keeping families together of the undocumented community, and to assist in equipping congregations, clergy and lay leaders to engage in such work, appropriate to local contexts, capacity, and discernment; and be it further
Resolved, That The Episcopal Church affirm our Church’s support for U.S. executive policies that deemphasize immigrant enforcement action against those who have not committed felony crimes, and reaffirm our church’s support for congressional action for comprehensive and just reform of the broken U.S. immigration system as called for in General Convention resolution 2009-B006: “to allow undocumented immigrants who have established roots in the United States and are often parents and spouses of U.S. Citizens to have a pathway to legalization and to full social and economic integration in to the United States.”
In The Episcopal Church, we are fortunate to have many resources at our disposal to become informed and get involved with this important issue. The Office of Government Relations came to the aid of St Luke’s work with the Bakala case:
“Constantin’s heartbreaking case is one example of the extreme difficulties asylum-seekers face in the U.S.,” said Lacy Broemel of the Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations, which advised Mathewson on raising awareness of Bakala’s case. “Family separation, lack of legal support and detention are all too common when it comes to the experiences of those who are applying for asylum protections.
“In the Office of Government Relations, we advocate to the U.S. government to keep families together, increase access to legal representation, and for alternatives to detention, and we urge the church to advocate for those systematic changes as well.”
As I wrote in last week’s blog, Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM) is set-up to give assistance to all of us trying to live into our call to be welcoming. Their new program, Partners in Welcome, is hoping to build a community of support for individuals, congregations, and groups desiring to live into our call to welcome the stranger.
Rev, Mathewson and the congregation of St Luke’s are a great example to the rest of us as to what can be done. Some of us live in areas where many “strangers” have come to reside. You know the definition of stranger, right? A stranger is a friend we haven’t met yet. Others of us may not have the same opportunity to get to know refugees and asylum seekers personally but we can look for ways to support and encourage those that do. Regardless of where you find yourself, Rev, Mathewson’s words remind us of our mission: “They are a part of our church, so it’s not some partisan issue. We’re family, and let’s do what we can to take care of each other, to stand up for each other.”
Let us pray –
Merciful God, we pray for families and individuals who have left or fled their homes, seeking safer and better lives. We lift up to you their hopes, fears, and needs, that they may be protected on their journeys, their dignity and rights may be honored and upheld, and they may be welcomed with open arms into generous and compassionate communities. Inspire us to reach out to them with welcome and assistance in their attempts to settle in an unfamiliar and often unwelcoming place. Help us to stand with them facing the authorities who will decide their fates. Help us to love. We ask these things in the name of our Lord Jesus who himself was a refugee seeking asylum as a child. Amen.
~ The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council