Welcoming the Stranger: Update from the Afghan Refugee Response Team

“…I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.”
Matthew 25:35

Welcome to “Welcome the Stranger,” the space where the EDOW Afghan Refugee Response Team (ARRT) will keep the diocese up to date on our latest work helping find our displaced Afghan siblings new homes. In this issue you’ll find some background on why we exist, a call to action, and an opportunity to sign up to receive regular updates on this important work.  

Why We Exist

According to the U.N. High Commission on Refugees, 82.4 million people were forcibly displaced globally as of the end of 2020. A quarter of them, 26.4 million, are refugees: people who are “unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion” (1951 Refugee Convention).

These are our siblings. As followers of Christ, we are called to help — to welcome the stranger.  The Episcopal Church and we in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington have long engaged in this great ministry. We are now seeking to deepen and expand our engagement — not only to meet the urgent emergency need to welcome Afghan refugees, but also to build our capacity to continue to welcome refugees from all over the world who will come to our communities in the future. Our faith asks no less.

Faith communities bring unique value to the resettlement process: offering a warm personal embrace to often traumatized people, caring assistance in adapting to a new and strange environment and an unfamiliar community, and basic human connection through personal relationships. The support of a faith community can make the crucial difference in a family’s success resettling in the United States (click here to hear how through one Afghan immigrant’s story). 

For these reasons, Bishop Mariann has established the EDOW Afghan Refugee Response Team (ARRT) to help in the current crisis, and to build capacity for a sustainable ministry of Welcoming the Stranger in the future. 

Through the Team, we are working to empower and support our congregations to undertake the great work of Welcoming the Stranger in ways large and small, in partnership with other parishes or faith communities, nonprofits supporting refugees, and community groups. The capacity we build will help make Welcoming the Stranger a shared, sustainable ministry throughout the Diocese for the future. 

We will not duplicate work other refugee support entities do, but rather, we will be the connective tissue, helping to connect the resources of EDOW parishes and individuals to the organizations aiding and settling refugees, and supporting parishes who are new to this work.

We are finalizing a “how to” manual — based on the experience of parishes who have already aided in resettling refugees in a variety of ways — to assist those new to this ministry discern what role they want to play and how to play it. We have assembled clergy and lay leaders experienced in this work to serve as mentors to congregations just starting out. Stay tuned! We will make these resources available soon. 

A Call for Volunteers

We are also looking for volunteers (urgent need) or references to those willing to provide PRO BONO services in a variety of areas. If you can help, please sign up here

Sign-up for Regular Updates

We are also assembling and will regularly share other valuable resources providing information congregations and individuals will find useful to get involved in this work, from many  excellent groups supporting refugee resettlement. We offer just a few below. If you want to stay up to date on information and action opportunities regarding refugee ministry, please sign up and join the EDOW Afghan Refugee Ministry Listserv

Helpful Resources


We welcome ideas, volunteers, connections, and resources from all of you, as well, as the team continues its work. Please contact the Rev. Anne Derse or Hazel Monae, ARRT Co-chairs, with your input or questions.

Supporting the Ministry of the Laity

By virtue of baptism, every member of the church is called to ministry. The role of a clergy is to be the spiritual leader of a congregation engaged in ministry with the entire congregation in its ministry. In a model of mutual ministry, the clergy and the lay leadership work together to cast a vision for mission and carry out that vision and mission. 

Lay and ordained leaders are charged with seeking ways to inspire and support the entire congregation in its ministry both within and outside the parish. While clergy play a particular role in formation, liturgy, and preaching, the ministry of every person is needed to fulfill God’s mission.  Here are a few ways to support the ministry of the laity: 

Engage in caring conversations
Ministry is about relationship. Through conversation we come to know one another more deeply and grow in our sense of belonging and commitment. We are people with concerns, joys, families and demands on our time. Caring conversations can happen over lunch, with coffee, at people’s homes, in the parish office, or over the phone. 

Listen for passions and gifts
A necessary skill of congregational leaders is to listen to what God is up to in a person’s life. This requires listening for the gifts of members. Gifts are not the same as skills. One of the differences is that using one’s gifts is life-giving and while a person might have a particular skill in spades, skills tend to be energy depleting. It is critical that people have the opportunity to offer their gifts in a congregation in life-giving ways.

Offer congregation-wide gifts discernment 
God has gifted every community with the gifts it needs to fulfill God’s mission. Every person has gifts to offer, and no one person has all the gifts. All the gifts of all are needed. This means always being open to discerning gifts of new members and the shifting gifts of existing members. Having an opportunity to discern gifts as a community will help a congregation claim its diverse gifts and pave the way for new energy.

Invite people into ministry 
We can be confident that God has given a congregation what it needs to fulfill its mission. Through caring conversations and gifts discernment, listen for people’s passions. Consider inviting people to take the next step to begin contributing to or to lead a ministry in an area that brings them joy. Service is an opportunity to put faith into action and deepen relationships. When making invitations, remember that intentional and personal invitations are significantly more effective than general requests for help.

Take time to celebrate 
Sometimes we focus so much on tasks that we forget to pause, look, and listen to the success of our efforts. It is critical to take time to celebrate life’s joys with one another, just as it is important to attend to one another’s needs. Celebrating affirms ministry and can provide the energy for renewed commitments.

Be alert for burnout 
Burnout often comes when there is a lack of focus, or an accretion of responsibilities on capable individuals. Establishing job descriptions with clear expectations and tangible goals with a timeline for passing on responsibilities to another person or period review is essential. This is especially true for volunteers. 

Pair new and experienced members 
Pairing new and existing members based on shared passions will help to create a sense of shared ministry and establish systems of mutual support.

Homily for Choral Evensong & Installation of Honorary Canons Virginia C. Mars and John H. Shenefield and New Members of Cathedral Chapter

Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit. Jeremiah 17:7-8

Jesus said, ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.‘The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!‘No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
Matthew 6:19-24

Good afternoon. I am honored to be in your company today. 

Services like this one are an important reminder that the leadership roles we assume in the organizations we care about are part of our vocation, our life’s work. Though they are often voluntary, when we take on the tasks of leadership, we give something precious of ourselves. We share our talent and skill. We give financially from the wealth entrusted to us. We give our time, perhaps the most precious gift of all. In giving, we also receive, from others engaged in the work alongside us; from the work itself; and from the grace of God that finds expression in human creativity. In the work of our varied vocations, we are co-creators with God.

A religious leader that I admire, Andy Stanley, once took it upon himself to identify the means through which God seeks relationship with us. Think of that for a moment–God seeking a deeper relationship with us, using whatever means possible to draw us in. “Faith catalysts” are what Stanley called these means God uses to help us grow in faith. After interviewing hundreds of people over several years, he identified five such catalysts. One of the five he called “personal ministry,” when we choose to personally engage in acts of service, and in particular, the acts that stretch us beyond what we think we can do or offer. An example of this is when we say yes to something not fully understanding what’s being asked of us, only to discover later on how big a commitment is required. Or perhaps we sense from the beginning that whatever we said yes to is far more than we can possibly accomplish on our own. In either case, we are particularly open to God, precisely because of the vulnerability we feel. 

For it is in that gap between what’s being asked of us and who we are and what we have to give that we can experience God in a powerful way. God shows up in our times of doubt or even despair, when we know that we’re in over our heads. God shows up in the collective striving of the group when we cross a threshold. God shows up in those graced moments when we feel–actually feel–the Holy Spirit working in and through us, as St. Paul writes, accomplishing far more than we can ask for or imagine. 

These are “loaves and fishes” moments, when what we have to offer pales in relationship to what’s needed, but like the disciples giving Jesus a few loaves of bread and some fish with which to feed a multitude of hungry people, we make our gift anyway, and through the grace of God our insufficient offering is part of a miracle through which others are blessed. Our faith in God can’t help but grow as a result, for we know, even if others want to give us all the credit, that it was God who filled the gap between our offering and what was needed, and accomplished what only God can do. 

When we give of ourselves in service, what we give becomes an expression of sacrificial love–the love God offers all of us, revealed most dramatically and completely in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. When we participate in that kind of love, no matter the cost to us, something in us shifts. In a mysterious process of spiritual alchemy, we become more of who we are at our best, more of the person God created us to be; indeed, a bit more like ones created in the image of God. 

Preparing for today, thinking of the Cathedral Chapter, and the new leaders we are here to install, and the two soon-to-be named honorary canons of this Cathedral, my mind went in two distinct directions. A good rule of preaching, by the way, is to pick one stream of thought and keep things simple. I’m breaking that rule, trusting that you are all smart people and can all stay with me for both. 

The first stream of thought has to do with the act of giving itself. 

Virginia and John are seasoned givers. They have been giving all their lives, sacrificially giving of their time, talent, and wealth. More than that, they are quick to invite others to join them in this over-the-top giving for the good of something big–like the mission and vision of this Cathedral–something worthy of the best we can give, and not just what we have left over.

It can be uncomfortable to be in the presence of ones so adept at giving that it looks easy for them, as if they had all the energy, creativity, wealth and time in the world to give, unlike the rest of us who much more rarely feel as if we have enough. But John and Ginny know, from experience, that when we give beyond what feels comfortable, we become like those trees planted that Jeremiah wrote of long ago–stronger inside, less anxious. As hard as it is at first, when we give beyond ourselves in a big way, we feel freer, for we are both grounded in our values and inspired by our highest aspirations. 

I can’t explain how it works; I just know that it’s true. Yes, there is a cost, a real, sacrificial cost. Ginny and John know that; returning chapter members know that, as do those joining you in the important ministry. But that’s precisely the point. Some things are so important in life that they deserve the gifts that cost us something, because where our treasure is, as Jesus said so well, our hearts are there also. What he doesn’t say, that we learn on our own, is that our hearts grow bigger with each gift. 

The poet David Whyte tells of time when he mentioned to his good friend, the late John O’Donohue (one of the finest poets and priests of contemporary Ireland) that he was thinking about giving his father some money. David rarely speaks or writes about his father, unlike his late mother, about whom he speaks and writes all the time. We can surmise, then, that it wasn’t the easiest of relationships. But he was clearly worried about his father, living alone in England after his mother’s death. David himself had long since relocated to the Pacific Northwest.

“How much are you thinking of giving him?” John asked. David told him. “Very good!”  John replied, “Now go beyond yourself. Double it.” “Okay,” David said after a pause. “All right, I will.” “Very good!” said John. “Now go beyond yourself again, and double that.”  Taken aback, David said, “Well, with friends like you a man could go broke.” To which John replied, “You won’t regret it.”

Sometime after that conversation John died a sudden and early death. It’s been years now, but David Whyte still talks about John as if he were still here. This particular conversation stayed with him. He did what John suggested. He went beyond what he thought he could do, and gave enough money to change his father’s life forever and for the better. And John was right. He never regretted it. 

Ginny and John know something about that kind of “go beyond yourself” giving. When they invite us to join them, it may well feel impossible to us. “Good!” they would tell us. “That’s how it’s supposed to feel. Go beyond yourself anyway. You won’t regret it.”  

The second  thought I offer this afternoon in honor of John and Virginia and the new Chapter members, and as a reminder to all of us, is the spiritual courage required to go first, to be the one to take the first step in response to a call, a vision, or a dream. When we go first, we don’t know if others will join us. Nor do we know, in taking the first step, exactly where we’re going. We walk in the beginning more by faith than by sight. The poet Antonio Machado reminds us that often in life there is no road. “Pilgrim,” he says, “You make the road by walking.” 

How many times in the life of this cathedral has John Shenefield or Virginia Mars gone first–making the first gift, being the first to chair an important initiative, to go on the road, to be the first to say out loud, “We need to consider this, or do that.” Then after taking the first step, they went ahead and took another, and another after that, and so they forged a road for all of us by walking it first. 

The combination of courage and tenacity is a wonder to behold, especially in the beginning stages of anything important, because there is absolutely no guarantee that things will turn as they hope. Failure is always a possibility, but John and Virginia know that it is better to fail at something important than to succeed in mediocrity. Today we honor their willingness to go first, and then to persevere, making it possible for others to join in and bask in the glory of reaching the destination and accomplishing the task, when at first, and for a very long time, Virginia, John, and a few other stalwart leaders forged the path on their own. 

Looking back from the perspective of the destination or accomplishment, there is an air of inevitability about it all, as if the outcome was assured from the beginning. Those who went first will tell us otherwise, that nothing we celebrate now was inevitable when they started. What brings a dream or vision of what could be to its fulfillment are the steps taken toward it–the first, courageous step and all the other steps that follow. For a long time, it’s a lonely walk. For a long time, it doesn’t seem as if anything has or will ever change. But when it does change, when momentum kicks in and more people join the effort, all can bask in the collective joy of accomplishment. In retrospect, we all speak about the thing that we accomplished as if it were our idea in the first place, as if we had all gone first. People like John and Virginia are kind to smile and allow us all to share in the dream they held on our behalf for so long.

This is such an important moment in the life of our nation, in the world, and in the life of this Cathedral. We are all here for a reason. It matters that we show up. It matters that we say yes to causes of great importance. Thus far, I’ve been speaking of John and Virginia in the past tense, but they are very much here, still giving, still willing to go first if needed. The best way to honor them is, as Jesus often said, to go and do likewise, giving of ourselves in ways that both cost us and give back far more than we could ever hope to receive, and in forging our way toward the dreams God has placed in our hearts.

Starting, then Persevering

See, I am doing a new thing. Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.
Isaiah 43:19

I’ve been thinking about what it feels like when we start down a path toward something new–be it an idea, a destination or dream. Sometimes we begin with a clear vision of where we’re headed; other times, all we know is that it’s time to take the first step toward what lies beyond our sight. In either case, deciding to start is an act of faithfulness, a willingness to trust that the Spirit of God is, indeed, doing something new. 

From the vantage point of arrival or accomplishment, it’s easy for others to imagine that we had complete certainty when we first set out, or that the outcome was the logical conclusion of that first step. We know better. We rarely, if ever, felt that level of confidence, nor was the path as linear when we walked it as it seems to have been in retrospect. 

If there is anything we’ve learned in the last two years, surely it is the art of improvisation. We’ve done so much experimenting and adapting. We’ve faced realities that we didn’t know were coming or had been there all along, but we didn’t see them until now. We’ve been tried, tested and stretched beyond what many of us thought was possible. More than once, we’ve been blown off course or forced to stop what we were doing in order to deal with yet another crisis. Many of us have grieved, and prayed, like never before. 

We’ve also learned the importance of perseverance, not giving up on those God-inspired visions that got us moving in the first place. Yes, there have been setbacks, detours, and entirely new contexts in which to live our lives, do our work, and walk in Jesus’ way of love. But God is still God. We are still here. And while it doesn’t feel like much, there is something to be gained in taking one faithful step at a time toward the dreams God has placed on our hearts. 

Last Saturday, clergy and lay leaders from 12 EDOW congregations gathered for the official start of a three-year journey toward greater vitality through the Tending Our Soil thriving congregations initiative. Looking ahead three years at a time when we don’t know how to plan for tomorrow is surely an expression of audacious hope, born of the conviction that our faith communities still have a place in God’s mission of reconciling love. Those of us who first dreamed of such an initiative three years ago are in awe that by grace and perseverance we have made it to this day. It was anything but inevitable when we began.

At a virtual gathering of Episcopal bishops this week, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry suggested that we were in what he called “a narthex moment.” The narthex, in Episcopal-speak, refers to that area in a church where people enter and exit. It is an apt metaphor, he said, for this time of uncertainty, “between the world we knew and whatever is being born.” Yet the picture he painted of what God might be doing now is, in fact, an ancient dream of a church “not formed in the ways of this world but formed in the ways of Jesus and his love.” Some aspects of the world being born resonate with our spiritual forebears’ vision of what it meant to follow Jesus; others are unique to our time. 

Given the magnitude of suffering and uncertainty we face each day, persevering in hope can be a challenging spiritual practice. More than once, I have succumbed to despair and cynicism. But then days like Saturday happen, when I feel the power of God’s steady inspiration and the fruits of small, faithful steps over time. I’ve experienced similar moments in our labors for justice, and the work to build resources to help our people grow in faith and our leaders to lead well. They give me hope that our diocesan strategic plan–prayerfully discerned in the three years before COVID-19–can still be our guide even as we must adapt, sometimes daily, to new challenges. 

Maybe we are always living in the tension between the world as we know it and the new world being born. I am persuaded that the seeds of new life have already been planted, for some have begun to sprout and grow. We’ve already begun the journey from where we are now to where God is calling us. Today, and every day, our task is to take the next faithful step.  

¡Todos estan bienvenidos! All are welcome!

¡Todos estan bienvenidos! All are welcome!

Members of San Mateo/St. Matthew’s, Hyattsville participate in a neighborhood Palm Sunday Procession

We kick off the celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 – October 15), by acknowledging the rich contributions of the Latino/Hispanic community not just in the United States, but also within the wider church and in our diocese. Our diocesan Latino/Hispanic community comprises people from over 20 Latin American and Caribbean countries, each enriched by their own culture, traditions, music, foods, colorful textiles, with much of our life centered around familia y fe

As many celebrate their fiestas patrias this month — national holidays celebrating the independence of their country of origin — we joyfully lift up the fact that Latino/Hispanic ministries continue to grow rapidly both in The Episcopal Church and ithe Diocese of Washington. 

Our six Spanish language congregations seek to provide a spiritual home to people of many countries and cultures. We strive to live, work and celebrate together the love of God that transcends all diversity.

As we work toward Becoming Beloved Community, our next steps in our diocesan Latino/Hispanic Ministries are to:

  • Convene a Latino/Hispanic Ministry advisory council;
  • Grow participation in and support for Washington National Cathedral Sanctuary Ministry and their advocacy work;
  • Identify and develop strategies to engage with critical Equity and Justice issues affecting Latino/Hispanic communities throughout the Diocese;
  • Support parish leaders that wish to explore the development of Latino/Hispanic Ministry in their congregations; and 
  • Equip Latino/Hispanic leaders with resources and tools for skill development, awareness building, spiritual growth and faith formation.

If you are interested in learning more about Latino/Hispanic ministries, please visit one of our six congregations, take a look at the suggested reading list, and/or contact Mildred Briones Reyes, Missioner for Latino/Hispanic Ministries and Diocesan Initiatives.

¡Todos estan bienvenidos! All are welcome!