Love God, Love Neighbor Conference
A Reflection from a Diocesan Liaison for Refugee Resettlement
By Wendy Grace
The Episcopal Church has a founding tradition for welcoming refugees to our country. Did you know that? I did not. In fact, I did not know that my beloved Episcopal Church had anything to do with refugees, let alone that Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM) was one of the founding organizations for refugee resettlement in the US. What a happy and providential thing for me to learn!
Episcopal Migration Ministries was one of the founding organizations for refugee resettlement in the United States.
You see, in May of 2016 when Rutland announced it was seeking to become a resettlement site for Syrian refugees, I felt called to help. Apparently, so did many of you, my fellow Episcopalians in the Diocese of Vermont, because as parish coordinator of Trinity Church in Rutland, I received many of your calls asking how you too could be involved. I floundered—I had no answer! I was quite new to the resettlement process and was remarkably ignorant about everything to do with it. So I asked my new friends at VRRP (Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program). After participating in a general community forum, a volunteer orientation and several committee meetings specific to my volunteer efforts with VRRP in Rutland, I still had no constructive suggestions for those of you out-of-range who want to help. So I did some deeper searching and found my way to RCUSA.org (Refugee Council USA) which is the network of all the resettlement organizations in the country. There are nine of these organizations, most of which are faith-based. As I read through the short list, what do I behold but one Episcopal Migration Ministries! “Episcopal? What’s this,” I thought to myself and determined to learn more.
My search for answers to your questions led me to contact EMM. I spoke with a charming young woman who put me in touch with three other charming and bright enthusiastic women—the Episcopal Church is chock full of these folk—who were able to direct me in finding answers. Allison Duvall manages church relations and engagement for EMM. She is the one who helps connect congregations with EMM field office affiliates. But she also is there for any dioceses and parishes without resettlement affiliation or who are affiliated with other organizations. Allison told me one of the best things non-affiliated parishes can do is advocate. Remember, at this point I’m still pretty ignorant so I asked for clarification. She introduced me via email to Lacy Broemel who is the Refugee and Immigration analyst for the Office of Government Relations for the Episcopal Church. Lacy’s job is to connect the Episcopal Church’s policy with what policy makers in Washington, D.C. are doing. Essentially, she’s a lobbyist. She knows advocating and is willing to share! When I asked her how best to teach and encourage advocacy, Lacy suggested I speak with Kendall Martin, EMM’s Program manager for Communications. All three women encouraged me to become part of a new concept with EMM, a Diocesan Liaison. With the appointment by Bishop Ely, I did just that.
But what is a Diocesan Liaison for Refugee Resettlement and what does the role entail? EMM has its own vision and recruited a small number of us to be part of the pilot program. EMM wants to have a link with every diocese regardless of whether or not they work with a resettlement field office. The reasoning behind this is twofold. First, until recently, refugee resettlement in this country has operated with very little publicity, making it difficult to establish and maintain community cooperation and volunteer networks; further, with President Obama’s increase of incoming refugees from 85,000 to 110,000 in 2017, resettlement organizations had to scramble to increase volunteers. How could they do this when no one knows about refugee resettlement? Establishing liaisons in each diocese should facilitate volunteer recruitment and communications. Second, even in dioceses that do not have a resettlement program nearby, members can form advocacy groups which liaisons can train with guidance from EMM. With the election and the new administration’s stance on refugees and immigration policy, advocacy on behalf of the refugee resettlement program is more crucial than ever. EMM envisions liaisons pivotal contacts for disseminating information and as leaders to build teams of advocates. To that end, EMM set up an online “’basecamp” where we all could share news, ideas, questions and more, and they designed a pilot training conference that was held at St. John’s Episcopal Church in West Hartford, CT from June 5-8.
With the election and the new administration’s stance on refugees and immigration policy, advocacy on behalf of the refugee resettlement program is more crucial than ever.
The conference, named Love God, Love Neighbor, was intended to be a pilot training where we early recruits were to be “beta testers” for future training sessions. By the time of the conference, we had already learned a good deal about the refugee resettlement program in the United States and what resettlement requires at the local level. EMM encouraged us to participate in webinars offered by RCUSA, Interfaith Immigration Coalition, Welcome Refugees and EMM itself that taught us much about the resettlement program. So the segment of the conference simulating the resettlement of a refugee family was a diverting refresher. We learned some interesting details about the history of refugee resettlement in the United States and the Episcopal Church’s prominent role in it.
But the key component of the conference dealt with advocacy. We learned about the importance of connecting with our Congressmen, even if they are already proponents for refugee resettlement. They need to hear from their constituents that indeed, the American people do stand with refugees! We learned how to frame our message and how frequently to make it. Lots of fun role-playing activities helped us gain confidence in our presentation. We learned how advocacy is tightly integrated with the resettlement process and that without it, the program weakens. We see this happening now. There has been so little publicity about the benefits of welcoming refugees that it became easy to use fear to sway the public (and Congressional) mindset. One of the most empowering assets we Episcopalians have in our advocacy toolbox is our faith. The Rev. Mark Stevenson, the Director of EMM, works closely with the State Department, Homeland Security, and the Agency for Children and Families—the government branches that have a direct stake in welcoming refugees to the States. Mark shared with us a comment the then Secretary of State, John Kerry, told him. He said, “In the area of refugee resettlement, the government makes the policy and laws. But it is up to the faith communities to provide the moral motivation.” The title of this conference paraphrasing the two greatest commandments defines that moral motivation.
“In the area of refugee resettlement, the government makes the policy and laws. But it is up to the faith communities to provide the moral motivation.”
If your parish is interested in the cause of refugee resettlement, and if you’d like to learn more about advocacy or other ways you can help, please call on me! I’d be happy to visit your congregation and start setting up a network of advocates. I’m easiest to reach by calling or emailing Trinity Episcopal Church in Rutland (802-775-4368; firstname.lastname@example.org).
Featured image (previous page) by Wendy Grace: Leaders and participants of Love God, Love Neighbor conference, l-r, Amanda Payne, Diocese of Dallas; Lacy Broemel, Refugee and Immigration Policy Analyst for Episcopal Office of Government Relations; Lynn Zender, Diocese of Northern California; the Rev. Willie Allen-Faiella, Diocese of Southeast Florida; the Rev. Sean Lanigan, Diocese of Pennsylvania; the Rev. Deacon Johanna Young, Diocese of New Hampshire; Steve Abdow, Diocese of Western Massaschusetts; Jenny Grant, Officer for Global Relations and Networking for the Episcopal Church; Allison Duvall, Manager for Church Relations and Engagement for Episcopal Migration Ministries; Wendy Grace, Diocese of Vermont; the Rev. Twila Smith, Diocese of Bethlehem; and Kendall Martin, Communications Manager for Episcopal Migration Ministries.