Immigration seminar challenges pastors, church leaders to consider "hot-button" issue from Christian perspective

Curtis Book, peace and justice coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee East Coast, leads BIC pastors, church leaders, and laity in a discussion of the biblical and theological implications of "welcoming the stranger."—Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) East Coast—in partnership with the Susquehanna, Atlantic, and Allegheny conferences of the Brethren in Christ Church in North America—held an immigration awareness seminar for Brethren in Christ pastors, church leaders, and laity on January 30.

Organized and led by Curtis Book, peace and justice coordinator for MCC East Coast, and Grant Rissler, financial resources development coordinator for MCC East Coast, the seminar included three main components: biblical and theological reflections on “welcoming the stranger”; stories of immigration from Brethren in Christ individuals; and the complexities of legal immigration in the U.S.

“The seminar provided broad, comprehensive coverage regarding the plight of immigrants, present governmental law and practice, and options for positive change in the future,” remarked Bob Verno, senior pastor at Mount Pleasant ( Pa.) Brethren in Christ Church, who attended the seminar.

“I particularly appreciated hearing the stories shared by those who had experience dealing with the immigration system and the challenges that it presented to them,” added Greg Starr, pastor of adult discipleship at New Hope Church ( Harrisburg, Pa.), who attended the seminar with his wife, Amy.

The stories shared at the seminar came from Linda Lambert, pastor of congregational care at Carlisle ( Pa.) Brethren in Christ Church, who described the complex and often confusing path she and her late husband John traversed in emigrating to the U.S. from Canada; and Jeff Reed, a member of Cumberland Valley Brethren in Christ Church (Dillsburg, Pa.) and co-owner of Quality Greenhouses and Perennial Farm, who shared some stories about his business’ use of government-sponsored migrant labor programs the spiritual and personal benefits of such initiatives.

Rachel Diaz, a member of La Roca Firme Brethren in Christ Church (Hialeigh, Fl.) and an immigration attorney in Miami, also contributed stories of clients and cases she’s dealt with in her work. The stories were shared by Book, since Rachel was unable to attend the seminar.

According to BIC leaders, the seminar was a helpful, biblical introduction to a complex issue.

“You can only go so far in dealing with a major matter of this nature in a three hour time slot,” noted Verno. “The presenters did very well in using the time well.”

“Because I have a concern for justice, I want to take opportunities available to me to broaden my understanding and perspective on social issues and how Christians can/should respond to them,” said Starr. “This seminar was a great help in beginning to understand the dynamics of immigration in the U.S.”

The pastors also stated that the seminar has informed the way they think, preach, and lead on immigration issues. “As a pastor, I am better prepared to teach on this matter and guide my congregation in sensible and compassionate ministry,” reflected Verno. “The time was certainly well spent.”

Added Starr, “Broadened understanding and perspectives are always helpful in ministry.”