“It is all about building relationships” – that is what our UCC Washington DC staff told the 22 Conference Ministers during our orientation session prior to visiting Congressional offices last week. Our DC-based staff (who were amazing) had contacted the Senate and Representative offices of the states that Conference Ministers represented to set up appointments. I had the opportunity to meet with staff members of Senator Hyde-Smith (MS), Senator Perdue (GA), Senator Shelby (AL), and Senator Alexander (TN). I also drop off some written materials for Senator Jones (AL) and Representative Lewis (GA). Our message was very focused concerning the appropriation of funding. We asked that there not be increased funding for detention centers that separated families and children, but that money be used to support community-based agencies where immigrants could be housed with families in humane settings while waiting for requests to be processed. Also, we advocated that when appropriations for funding were made, strict oversight be provided for the funding of the Department of Homeland Security so that money would not be diverted from FEMA, the Coast Guard, TSA and Military family support in order to build more detention centers and “the wall.”
I wore my UCC cross and a clergy stole, while explaining the role of the Conference Minister and who I represented. I actually experienced the Senatorial staff persons with whom I talked to be receptive to the conversation. I acknowledged that Immigration issues are complicated, but focused on humane treatment and the trauma of separating children from families producing the long-time affects. I delivered the letters that some of you wrote. I also discovered that it was actual stories that seemed to have an impact in our conversations: stories that seemed to place a human experience or emotion to what can easily be seen as just “policy.” I explained that as the UCC we are a welcoming church, seeing each person as a child of God.
This Sunday many churches will recognized World Communion Sunday – the celebration that we are more than ourselves; that our faith, although expressed in different ways, is focused on coming to the table of Jesus Christ where all are welcome. As I partake in Holy Communion this Sunday, I will carry images of families and children who want to belong and to be welcomed.
I like to think that my visit may have been one more voice (adding to other voices) that lifted up the concern for humane treatment of individuals. However, it is obviously not enough. I encourage you to write letters – letters and stories make a difference!
Thank you to those of you who have made this issue an important priority! There are several resources on the UCC website, including information about how your church can become an Immigrant Welcoming Congregation (https://www.uccfiles.com/pdf/ucc-immigrant-welcoming-congregation-2018.pdf).