S.C. UMs advocate for just and humane immigration reform

May advocacy trainings scheduled

By Jessica Connor

South Carolina United Methodists work to advocate for just and humane immigration reform is garnering some national attention as it helps spread awareness about the plight of the stranger in this state.

The S.C. United Methodist Rapid Response and Refugee and Immigrant Ministries Team is organizing a host of events to shine light on immigration issues and help remedy some of the more pressing problems. The team was formed at Annual Conference 2011.

South Carolina activities “ everything from prayer vigils to Neighbor to Neighbor meetings and more “ were lifted up recently by national immigration advocates, including United Methodist Bishop Minerva Carcaño and Bill Mefford, with the UMC s General Board of Church and Society.

Jasmine s Story

One of the ways South Carolina is leading the nation in this ministry is that more than 35 different local churches and groups have held prayer vigils with viewings of Jasmine's Story, which is a 12-minute video about a 17-year old who was left alone in the U.S. after her parents were deported. A local UMC in her city responded with open arms, adopting the girl and helping her enroll and succeed in college.

Throughout the nation, there have been about 250 prayer vigils and viewings of ˜Jasmine's Story, so it is amazing to hear that over 35 churches in S.C. have taken the time to hear the stories of our immigrant brothers and sisters and to pray, said the Rev. Emily Sutton, who leads S.C. United Methodist Rapid Response and Refugee and Immigrant Ministries Team.

May advocacy trainings

As another way to help with immigration reform, in May the team will hold advocacy trainings at six locations in S.C. to help clergy and laity understand ways they can help. The trainings will be held in Charleston, Columbia, Florence, Greenville, Myrtle Beach and Rock Hill (see below for dates, times and locations).

Sutton said this training is an ideal starting point for people interested in helping the cause.

I think we have lots of laity and clergy who want to know what they can do, but do not know where to start, said Sutton, who pastors the Bethel-Philadelphia Charge in the Rock Hill District. This will be the place to start. Maybe we have other folks who are interested or have been looking for ways to be an advocate or work with immigrants in their area. This is a place for them to get more information and tools to be in ministry.

Interfaith prayer vigils

S.C. United Methodists also participated in interfaith prayer vigils April 4 held in three of Sen. Lindsay Graham s regional offices in the state. The vigils, led by United Methodist clergy, were held to pray for Graham, who is an active part of creating an immigration reform bill for the Senate, as well as for families who are separated and for all congressional representatives working for immigration reform. All the vigils were on the same day at the same time.

As Sutton noted, We are a connectional church and what a better way to be connected than to be in prayer at the same time around the state?

In tandem with the interfaith prayer vigils, the team also sent legislators an S.C. Interfaith Immigration Initiative Letter signed by clergy and laity across the state to craft and vote for common-sense immigration reform.

˜Remember: We are talking about people

The Rev. Len Ripley, who led one of the prayer vigils at Graham s office, said working for immigration reform is all about practicing biblical hospitality.

There is a mandate for Christians to practice and live out this radical hospitality, said Ripley, who pastors Midland Park UMC, North Charleston. Jesus did not place any conditions or limitations on it, either. Just as Paul wrote to the people of Corinth in 1 Corinthians 11:1, all Christians are called to be ˜imitators of Christ. The early church father John Chrysostom sums it all up in this way: ˜This is the rule of most perfect Christianity, its most exact definition, its highest point, namely, the seeking of the common good. For nothing can so make a person an imitator of Christ as caring for his neighbors.

The Rev. Richard Reams, who led another of the legislative prayer vigils, said it took him a long time to do away with some of his prejudices. But today, the more involved he has gotten, the more he has realized he cannot be silent.

I may not have all the answers, but silence would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater, said Reams, who pastors St. Luke UMC, Walhalla. I believe that embracing my identity as a child of God calls me to action, to love who God loves and care who God cares about. Scripture seems fairly clear that such a love entails the care for the least, last or lost, especially when there is an injustice involved. My greatest passion here is that everyone remembers we are talking about people.

After all, he noted, no matter one's political leanings, people must remember we are not talking about statistics or labels or numbers.

These are real people with names and families and stories that matter, Reams said. If we forget that, none of our decisions will be glorifying to God.

The Rev. Sonia Ely Brum, conference coordinator for Hispanic/Latino ministry and pastor of the West Metro Hispanic Mission, pointed to Jesus words in Matthew 25:40: I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me.

Jesus calls us to love, to show mercy and also do justice, Brum said. If we stay silent, ˜the stones would shout out. To advocate for just and humane immigration reform is our opportunity to practice the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Sutton said she hopes each district superintendent and S.C. Bishop Jonathan Holston will support the team s efforts to advocate for just and humane immigration reform and possibly join in the work.

See below for more ways to get involved.

Attend an Immigration Advocacy Training Day

All who are interested in learning how they can get started as an advocate for just and humane immigration reform are encouraged to attend one of six training days throughout South Carolina.

The trainings will be led by Bill Mefford from the UM General Board of Church and Society.

  • Columbia: May 13, 6-9 p.m., at the S.C. United Methodist Conference Center, 4908 Colonial Drive, Columbia, S.C. 29203 (upstairs conference room)
  • Myrtle Beach area: May 14, 9 a.m. to noon, at First UMC, 1001 5th Ave., Conway, S.C. 29526
  • Charleston: May 14, 6-9 p.m., Cokesbury UMC, 4990 Dorchester Rd., Charleston, S.C. 29418
  • Rock Hill: May 15, 9 a.m. to noon, St. John's UMC, 321 South Oakland Ave., Rock Hill, S.C. 29730
  • Greenville area: May 15, 6-9 p.m., St. Luke UMC, 607 East Main Street, Walhalla, SC 29691

What can you do to help advocate for just and humane immigration reform?

The following events are hosted by the S.C. Rapid Response and Refugee and Immigrant Ministry Team to advocate for just and humane immigration reform:

1. Prayer vigils with the showing of Jasmine's Story.

2. Neighbor to Neighbor meetings with state and local legislators to express their support for reunification of families, a pathway to citizenship and workers rights. As the church, we believe in the family unit and the need for families to be reunited, Sutton said.

3. Attend a May 13-20 advocacy training with Bill Mefford from the UM General Board of Church and Society. Training locations are set for Charleston, Columbia, Florence, Greenville, Myrtle Beach and Rock Hill.

4. Help set up and staff a booth at Annual Conference 2013 to reach out to the growing group of advocates for immigrants and refugees.

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