Diaconal Ministry: Welcoming the Stranger

by | Oct 14, 2021


Photo from St. John’s, Norwood Facebook page announcing coat drive for ADAMS Center

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

Refugee resettlement has long been a priority of The Episcopal Church. Many in our diocese have engaged actively in this ministry. Anticipating what the massive evacuation of refugees precipitated by the withdrawal of U.S. military presence in Afghanistan in August might require, Bishop Mariann called on the Diocese’s deacons — charged in The Episcopal Church with “a special ministry of servanthood to serve all people, especially those in need” — to lead us in taking on this new challenge. Through the new diocesan Afghan Refugee Response Team, our Deacons are responding to fulfill this call. They are working to make “Welcoming the Stranger” a shared, sustainable ministry throughout the Diocese, not only to meet the current emergency needs of Afghans, but also to welcome the many refugees from all over the world who will come to our communities in the future.

Meeting weekly with experienced lay leaders, the team, co-chaired by Deacon Anne Derse of St. John’s Norwood, is providing information and resources and making connections to assist parishes new to this ministry in getting involved, as well as to support the great initiatives already underway in parishes with established refugee ministries. Deacons Ethan Bishop-Henchman,  Kathryn McMahon and Mary Sebold have established new refugee committees at St. Paul’s K Street, Good Shepherd in Silver Spring, and St. Dunstan’s in Cabin John.  Deacon Terri Murphy at Ascension Silver Spring, with deacon students Adela Vasquez and Melissa Sites, is collaborating with Deacons Sara Thorne, and Adrienne Clamp at Christ Church Kensington and Redeemer, Bethesda to set up homes for newly arrived Afghan families. With support from Deacons Eugene Wright, David Griswold, and Harvey Bale at St. Anne’s Damascus, St. Columba’s, and St. David’s they are also helping the All Dulles Area Muslim Society ADAMS Center collect at least 13,000 coats this month for refugees on military bases.

At St. John’s Olney, Deacon Janice Hicks and deacon student Nancy Stockbridge are leading the parish in equipping apartments and preparing to mentor new refugees. Our active community of deacons in Southern Maryland, Marty Eldredge, Joan Crittenden, and Steve Seely have united their parishes to raise money, purchase gift cards, and assemble welcome kits for new homes. And the congregation of St. John’s Norwood, supported by Deacon Anne Derse, has just begun supporting a newly arrived Afghan family, and agreed to sponsor two more Afghan refugees for entry to the U.S. Deacons are also working on advocacy for immigration reform, connections with Muslim and Afghan communities, and collaboration with non-profits and community groups supporting refugees.

The support of faith communities makes a crucial difference in our new neighbors’ successful resettlement in the United States. Working collaboratively, our Deacons are empowering us to ensure the compassionate welcome to the stranger that Jesus calls us to offer.

The Rev. Ethan Bishop-Henchman
Deacon,  St. Paul’s, K Street

The Rev. Anne Derse
Deacon, St. John’s Norwood