The Gift of Presence
For nearly two weeks, those of us in the Saint Paul Area Synod have been blessed by the presence of ou[...]
There once was a woman who was expecting Jesus to come over to her house for dinner. She worked to make her home all ready for him, but throughout the day, she kept getting interrupted—by a child, by an old woman, by a homeless man. They each came and asked for her help, but she refused all of them, saying that she was preparing for a very important visitor. But dinner-time came and went, and no Jesus. Finally, with the dinner spoiled, the woman decided to go out and look for Jesus. When she found him, she asked why he had not come to her house as he had promised. Jesus explained to her that he did come to her house—as a child, as an old woman, and as a homeless man.
This is the story that was shared last Saturday, when representatives from several of our synod’s welcoming congregations came together at Como Park Lutheran to participate in an AMMPARO Welcoming Congregations Panel. In our synod, we have four congregations that are officially part of the AMMPARO network and designated as “Welcoming Congregations.” Representatives from these four congregations—Gloria Dei, St. Paul-Reformation, Christ on Capitol Hill, and Lutheran Church of the Redeemer—shared with attendees what being a Welcoming Congregation means in their unique contexts. More than 40 people from over 10 congregations came out to hear panelists’ stories of how their congregations are cultivating a spirit of hospitality, and how they are plugging into the many programs and resources available in order to best address the needs of immigrant neighbors and community members.
The “Jesus coming to dinner” story illustrated the common thread of why these congregations became involved in this work in the first place, and why they continue to make it a central part of their church’s ministry. Refusing to help, turning a blind eye, or being unwelcoming to those that came to our country to seek help, asylum, and refuge, would be to fall into the same trap as the woman from the story did. Each representative spoke of how their church strives to show God’s radical and transforming love to the broken, down-trodden, and most vulnerable of society, and so naming themselves as a place that welcomes immigrants, many of whom fit into those categories, seemed like a “logical next step.”
While the reason for getting involved had a common theme, the way that each congregation lives out its call to “welcome the stranger” (Matthew 25:35) looks very different. One panelist talked about how for her congregation, it means housing a woman with a pending asylum case and her three children. Another said that in their congregation it means spreading the word on current advocacy needs and giving the congregants the tools they need to write to their representatives. A third congregation is hosting a fundraiser concert, with some of the proceeds designated to AMMPARO. Another congregation connected a young immigrant family with a local housing non-profit.
Attendees from congregations not on the panel also shared how their congregations are getting involved, such as assisting immigrants with transportation by driving them to appointments or equipping them with public transportation cards. Many congregations have sent people to be trained as court observers so that they are able to go to immigration court and be a friendly presence and spiritual resource for those facing their first court appearance.
Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities (AMMPARO) is a holistic, whole church commitment by the ELCA…a strategy developed to accompany the children and their families who are forced to flee their home communities for a large variety of reasons. The AMMPARO strategy started developing in 2014 and was adopted as an initiative of the ELCA by the Churchwide Assembly in the summer of 2016. The AMMPARO strategy can be carried out by individuals and congregations getting involved in several ways: praying, becoming a welcoming congregation, advocating, accompanying in court, and giving financially.
As stories were shared, attendees found inspiration and ideas to take back to their own congregations. It is clear that what it means to be a Welcoming Congregation looks different for each congregation. There is no set formula of steps that a congregation takes when they join the AMMPARO network. The message that became clear during our time together is that this is not perfect work. This is messy, complicated, convoluted, ambiguous work. But we press on, working daily to see Jesus in the face of all those we encounter, and, recognizing Jesus, welcome those in need with open hearts and minds.
A Welcoming Congregation commits to accompany migrant children and their families through their transition to life in the United States. They commit to spiritually and pastorally accompany migrants, physically accompany migrants and provide resources where needed, pray for migrant children and families, and participate in advocacy.
At www.elca.org/ammparo, there are many resources on the AMMPARO strategy, and what it means to be a Welcoming Congregation. If your congregation is already doing work that fits into the commitments of a Welcoming Congregation, consider officially joining the network by filling out the commitment form. This commitment form also includes an invitation which you can share with your pastor and/or church leadership. Send it to AMMPARO director Mary Campbell (email@example.com), and also notify synod AMMPARO coordinator Alicia Rodriguez that your congregation has signed up (firstname.lastname@example.org). Perhaps starting involvement in this work is something you want to discuss in your congregation.
About the Author - Alicia Rodriguez is the office manager at the Saint Paul Area Synod. She has coordinated the synod's AMMPARO and Guardian Angel programs since 2017. Her interest in these efforts was inspired in part by her year of service as a Young Adult in Global Mission (YAGM) in Mexico.