At the annual ELCA assembly held August 5-10 in Milwaukee, the assembly passed a resolution that
….affirms the ELCA’s long-standing commitment to migrants and refugees and declares the ELCA a sanctuary church body.
The same day the resolution was passed, Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, presiding bishop of the ELCA, joined more than 700 assembly members and others in a march and prayer vigil to the Milwaukee Immigration and Customs Enforcement office. The march addressed concerns about the human rights of migrant children and families entering the U.S. along the southern border. Some of you may have seen the information on the national news channels last month.
The Zion Council discussed the resolution and what, if anything, should be done about it at the August 21 meeting. At the time no member of the council had received any questions concerning the resolution and how it would affect Zion, or if Zion should act because of the resolution. Since then, a few members have asked what this means for Zion.
The council reviewed the talking points developed by the ELCA which further clarified what the declaration meant for individual congregations. Here are some of the main talking points.
- ELCA is publicly declaring that walking alongside immigrants and refugees is a matter of faith.
- ELCA does not call for any person, congregation, or synod to engage in any illegal actions.
- We have a broken system regarding immigration, refugees, and asylum-seekers.
- Our call to love our neighbor is central to our faith.
- Each congregation must work out what being a Sanctuary congregation means to them in their own context.
These are the first five talking points out of a total of 11. Others acknowledge the sanctuary work that some in the ELCA are already doing and the AMMPARO strategy that was adopted at the assembly meeting last year. AMMPARO stands for Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation, and Opportunities. Through AMMPARO, the ELCA is working with global partners to alleviate the conditions that cause people to migrate.
So… What Does All This Mean for Zion?
As affirmed at the council meeting on August 21st, it means for Zion what the talking points clarify. Our call is to love our neighbors and be welcoming to strangers. Welcoming people is not a political issue, it is a matter of faith. Also, as the talking points state, we are not going to do anything illegal or against the current laws of the United States.
Relatively speaking, Buffalo does not have a large immigrant or migrant population and there are few immigrants, refugees, or asylum-seekers in the area. Nor does Buffalo have a large industrial base which sometimes employ illegal immigrants. Minneapolis has a large immigration population, but we are too far out of the cities for most of these immigrants to settle in Buffalo. Most immigrants from Central America are Catholic and may not normally approach a Lutheran church for help.
So… What Could We Do?
We could offer classes and programs for new refugees (which are legal immigrants to the U.S via the United Nations) such as English as a second language, but the demand here in Buffalo is very small for such things. Zion could get more involved in global missions in Central America. Currently, we have global missions to Zambia in Africa and Jamaica in the Caribbean but nothing in Central America. We could host informational or talking groups about the national immigration issue, but right now, no one in the congregation has expressed interest in any of these initiatives. If you have an interest in this area or ideas for Zion, please contact a council member or one of the pastors. Pastor Suzi sits on the Global Missions committee.
What Does Being an ELCA Member and Part of a Sanctuary Denomination Mean to Zion?
Right now, it means what we have been doing for the last 153 years: being a welcoming congregation to strangers, being a friendly church to all that enter our doors, loving our neighbor, both near and far, and trusting and serving Jesus Christ our Lord.
Zion’s congregational officers are Dirk Foster (President), Ian MacCallum (Vice President), Jason Halvorson (Treasurer), and Diane Paulu (Secretary).