“…I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.”
Parishes and individuals throughout the Diocese have a long history of stepping up to welcome the stranger as displaced people from around the world arrive in this area. Beginning last August, after the President’s announcement of the end of the war in Afghanistan, the influx of refugees has reached record numbers. In response to this increased urgent need for assistance, what had been an informal sharing of knowledge and resources among those congregations with established refugee ministries served as the basis for the creation of the Afghan Refugee Response Team (ARRT) with Bishop Mariann then urging parishes and individuals to participate in responding to this humanitarian crisis.
As co-chairs of ARRT, the Rev. Anne Derse, deacon at St. John’s, Norwood and Hazel Monae, then the diocesan Missioner for Equity and Justice, provided the opportunity for parishes to gather regularly on Zoom, learn from those who had been supporting refugees for years, hear about the current situation and need, build partnerships, and take action to begin graciously ‘Welcoming the Stranger’.
Our Diocesan Strategic Plan calls us to “partner in ministries of equity and justice for greater impact in our communities” and “strengthen our collective witness…and shared resources to meet the needs of our regions.” Over the last ten months, parishes have done exactly that, cultivating collaboration among parishes in the Diocese, across faith communities, and with other aid organizations in the work to support arriving refugees. Based on the needs in the DMV, parishes have:
- sponsored newly arriving families,
- furnished and set up apartments,
- provided housing,
- fed those in hotels,
- gathered needed supplies such as coats, gift cards, socks, toys, and
- advocated for immigration reform.
Over thirty parishes and countless individuals have been generously involved with the efforts.
The capabilities developed and information gathered through the initial efforts of the ARRT apply to all arriving refugees and this spring, the ARRT community entered the next phase of work, renaming itself to the Refugee Response Team (RRT) to better reflect the wider scope of its mission.
The RRT community will continue to serve as a resource for parishes called to this ministry, so they have a place to start. To carry on the work, the RRT will remain a place for accessing and sharing information, provide ongoing support for parishes involved in the ministry, and carry out the vision of ‘Welcoming the Stranger’.
If you or the people of your parish feel called to this ministry, please don’t hesitate to email me.
Interim Chair, Refugee Response Team