In April, Governor Greg Abbott of Texas announced that his administration would charter buses to “bring migrants released by federal agents north to Washington….[to] be dropped at the doorstep of federal lawmakers.” In response, several faith communities in DC have stepped up to serve as spaces of respite following the long bus rides, working alongside not-for-profits that provide medical care, food, housing, transportation, and bus and plane tickets to the migrants next location. Over the month of June, the Church of the Epiphany, with the help of some of our sister Episcopal congregations, has been host to over 250 migrants.
Our guests arrive via private transport from Union Station to the church in need of immediate access to a bathroom and WiFi. The first arrivals each day tend to appear between 6:30 and 7:00 a.m. They are infants, children, elderly, men, women–all weary and calmly preparing for the next leg of their journey. Some speak Spanish, but other languages we hear are Portuguese, French, even English. We don’t always know how many guests we will host each time, so flexibility has been a necessity.
In the beginning, we provided what was asked for: toys for the kids, bathrooms, food to eat, directions to the store. It was an easy way to be of service, a form of outreach our parish has undertaken in response to calls for help any number of times over the years.
It has long been the custom of Epiphany to host weekday services. One day recently, I was preparing to pray with some regular visitors who entered the church with the expectation of a noonday service, but the sanctuary was filled with our migrant neighbors. It seemed natural to invite all present to pray together, but knowing that many of our guests were tired, and in the process of transitioning to the next stop, I did not think many would respond to the invitation.
I left the sanctuary to grab the readings for the day and my Spanish language Book of Common Prayer. Upon returning to the sanctuary, I was surprised to find that 50 migrants had gathered, silenced the children, and were anxiously awaiting the opportunity to pray.
Seeing how many were gathered I hesitated, wondering if my limited Spanish language knowledge would be adequate to meet the need, yet a sense of purpose and certainty settled upon me. With the help of a Spanish-speaking volunteer from Washington National Cathedral we prayed together, offered a homily, and praised God.
As a space of respite throughout the week, Epiphany provides an opportunity to walk the labyrinth, participate in worship, and hear music. Yet, it hadn’t occurred to us that one thing that would be welcomed by the travelers is corporate worship.
Despite the language barrier, and the fatigue from traveling on a bus for 25-33 hours, we had a spirited and beautiful worship experience. People were so thankful to be able to pray the Lord’s Prayer together. All the voices together, Spanish, English, rang throughout the sanctuary. Everyone walked away filled with the spirit, you could see all moving with a bit more joy in their step.
We did nothing fancy or extraordinary AND the Holy Spirit made her presence known to us. That day, we started as strangers and departed as siblings under God.
The Rev. Glenna Huber
Rector, Church of the Epiphany, DC