Immigration Reform: Challenge to the Church
April 23, 2010—“If you’re sitting there thinking, ‘My church won’t fight for immigration reform’ or, ‘My church will never get behind that,’ it’s because you won’t lead it there,” said Bill Mefford, director of Civil and Human Rights for the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS).
Mefford directed his remarks to more than 60 church leaders, participants in a Leader Training Workshop in New York City last Thursday. The event was hosted by New York Annual Conference Justice for Our Neighbors (NYAC-JFON), a ministry of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). It was made possible by a GBCS Ethnic Local Church Grant.
Mefford underscored the fact that moving congregations to support justice for immigrants and other marginalized people is pastoral work in which churches must take part.
Workshop participants, who came from more than 30 churches and community organizations, were challenged to consider ways they as leaders could move immigration reform forward not by merely sharing facts and statistics but by sharing stories and building relationships that move hearts.
JFON Immigration Attorney Thomas J. Mills began the day by discussing today’s complex immigration laws. It is easy for immigrants to get bogged down in the system and lose out on benefits for which they are eligible, he said. The system is even more challenging for those immigrants who do not have a strong command of English.
Equipping the Church
The daylong training, led by Mefford, Mills, and Rev. Pauline Wardell-Sankoh of John Wesley United Methodist Church, in Brooklyn, aimed to inform church leaders how they might educate their congregations and the immigrants in their communities about immigrants’ rights and the complex legal process involved in normalizing their status.
The training equipped participants with the tools they needed to preach sermons, teach Sunday school lessons, and offer workshops or seminars focused on immigrant justice issues. It also provided information on how church leaders might engage their congregants in advocacy and service to immigrants.
The workshop covered the basics of the current immigration system and how it affects the lives of immigrants who try to navigate their way through it. Other topics addressed the role of race and racism in shaping the US immigration system; values and concerns that underlie major objections to immigration reform; and strategies for engaging constructive conversations with those who oppose reform.
“We see this meeting as the beginning of a concerted effort throughout NYAC to rally for immigration reform. We hope this group will mobilize and spearhead that movement,” said Alice Mar, national program manager for JFON.
Forging strong partnerships with the NYAC Immigration Task Force, GBCS’s Rapid Response Team, and local advocacy organizations such as the New York Immigration Coalition will be instrumental in bringing that vision to reality.
NYAC-JFON provides free, immigration legal services in four monthly clinics located at John Wesley United Methodist Church in Brooklyn, Chinese United Methodist Church in Manhattan, La Promesa Presbyterian Church in Flushing, and South Presbyterian in Yonkers, all in New York.
How to Help
UMCOR’s Justice for Our Neighbors ministry partners with annual conferences and local churches to help sojourners navigate the complex immigration system in the United States. The program is based in the Methodist tradition of the Five Points Mission that served immigrants in New York City in the 1850s. Your gift to UMCOR Advance #901285 continues that tradition of hospitality to the stranger.