The Very Reverend Todd Donatelli

Welcoming the Alien and Stranger - Immigration and Contemplation

Posted By Todd Donatelli on March 09, 2017

Dear All Souls family,

For the past five years, Maria (not her real name) has been meeting weekly with a group of fellow mothers and grandmothers at a nearby church for discussion and support around matters of child-care, car pools, school activities, parenting skills and hectic parental schedules. In recent weeks anxiety in the group has grown exponentially to the point they are becoming fearful of meeting. The issue is that a significant number of these women are undocumented persons who have been living and working in our country for many years. They are fearful of recent governmental language and actions which have made uncertain their ability to remain in our country due to threat of deportation, fearful of family separation, and fearful of the lack of legal recourse.

While recent communication from the White House states continued support for Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) and for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), at the same time recent news stories such as the arrest of Daniela Vargas in Mississippi reveal conflicts in what is being said and what is taking place in certain communities.

As I contemplate the many issues around immigration I find myself informed by at least the following:
- the consistent biblical command from the earliest of Hebrew texts through Jesus and into early church writings to welcome the alien and stranger in our midst and to recall that our ancestors were wanderers;
- the percentage of Americans with immigrant ancestry;
- our pride as Americans to have inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”;
- appreciation and respect for the process of law which we understand as the course whereby we realize our liberties;
- the approximately eleven million people, including Maria and her companions, who are living in this country peaceably and productively and whose status is now under increasing threat with recent governmental language and actions;
- encouragement by our bishop that congregations engage this issue.

In addition to my own contemplation I am thinking about how we as a community of faith engage our sisters and brothers as well as all citizens of our country through this. 

This past Sunday we invited Bill Ramsey to speak of the current environment faced by persons under these threats. Bill worked from the mid 1970’s until the late 1990’s with the American Friends Service Committee with a focus on refugees and immigration and has continued the same work in his retirement. As well parishioners of All Souls have been attending meetings formed in recent weeks with members of Nuestro Centro and CIMA (Compañeros Inmigrantes de las Montañas en Accion), organizations working with immigrants to our country, in order to learn about how we as a people of faith can be aware and respond to issues facing persons who have immigrated here. This coming Sunday we will offer an additional Adult Forum on ways in which congregations are being encouraged to participate in the protection of persons seeking publicly to have due process protection from deportation. I highly encourage your participation in this forum. This will not be the last opportunity for us as a community to engage together as consideration of how we may be engaged in these issues will be an ongoing discernment of your Vestry and staff.

An outgrowth of the recent meetings with Nuestro Centro and CIMA has been a letter entitled A Declaration of Solidarity with Immigrants by People of Faith in Western North Carolina (click to read). It is a letter faith leaders and members of faith communities are being asked to sign. The letter will be presented at a press conference at the conclusion of a march this coming Tuesday, the 14th which originates at Noon at First Congregational UCC downtown and ends at The Unitarian Universalist Congregation on Charlotte Street.

As I contemplate singing this letter I appreciate I don’t sign it simply as a citizen of a faith community in WNC but as the face of All Souls. I appreciate that when folks see me publicly, whether at the Jewish Community Center, on WLOS, or speaking about an issue in the Citizen-Times, I do so not simply as Todd Donatelli but as the Dean of All Souls. This is a responsibility and a trust I greatly appreciate. There is a deadline for signatures of this coming Monday, the 13th of March. While I feel the spirit and content of the letter are consistent with our call as followers of Jesus I am also conscious of the specific language ‘Working alongside our immigrant neighbors, we will create sanctuary spaces and raise money for legal assistance.’  As the letter includes the support of sanctuary and raising funds for legal assistance we will have an additional Adult Forum this coming Sunday to talk further about what this means and entails.

Before I determine my signing of the letter I wish to have the opportunity of hearing from you. Thus, I am asking you to do several things:
1) Attend the Adult Forum this Sunday at 10:15 in Zabriskie Hall where we will discuss what has been described above including what is meant by creating sanctuary spaces and funds for legal assistance.
2) Please feel free to contact me either via email or call me at 274-2681 ext. 306. If you call please make sure to include your name and number with any message you leave. In order to be able to read and hear from all who contact me I would ask you to be as specific as possible with your questions and comments so our communication is as efficient as possible.
3) Pray and listen. Listen in the liturgies not only this Sunday but throughout Lent. Be present for Holden Evening Prayer on Sunday evenings at 5 p.m. which offers a further space of contemplation. We are a people of incarnation, of God in human flesh. We are called to seek and serve Christ in all persons loving our neighbors as ourselves. What does that look like in our day and time and how do we do this in a manner that creates the life to which Jesus calls us in the Lenten season and in all seasons?

Thank you for your faithfulness,