I’ll start with the what and then give you the why.
On Sunday, June 23 at 10:00 a.m., Charlotte Congregational Church (CCC) will host Refugee Awareness Sunday. Our hour-long worship service that morning will include lots of good music, silence, prayer, a guest speaker from the Association of Africans Living in Vermont (AALV), and a selection of readings from our tradition that call us to “welcome the stranger.”
After the service, all will be invited to gather for a time to snack and to informally discuss whatever bubbles up from their worship experiences. Whoever you are, wherever you are on your spiritual journeys, and whatever you name as your country of origin, you are welcome at CCC.
Why? CCC has chosen to host Refugee Awareness Sunday on June 23 because:
- UN World Refugee Day is scheduled for June 20 to “commemorate the strength, courage and perseverance of millions of refugees and…to show support for families forced to flee.”
- At CCC we recognize that complex global systems are behind the vast numbers of worldwide refugees and that there is a need for most of us to learn more.
- We recognize that there are not only refugees out there or over there, but that they are right here in Vermont with 3000 moving into the state over the past decade.
- Our Christian faith does not merely suggest, but it urges, commands and demands that we “welcome the stranger.” Going further, our faith reminds us that we are to welcome the stranger because we are strangers too. A verse from Leviticus 19:34 of the Hebrew Bible says it like this: “the alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
- In response to our faith, for over 3 years, CCC has engaged in a program we call Refugee Welcome. Currently, our Refugee Welcome team works every week with a family from Somalia. We know them and they know us. We love them and they love us. We need them and they need us.
- We acknowledge the topics of immigration in general and refugees in particular are emotional for many people. We don’t all agree about what it means to “welcome the stranger.” Politics are always just under the surface of our dialogue if they are not already on the surface.
Discussing immigration and refugees is risky. AND. AND. They are among the most important moral topics of our age that we must find the courage, and create the opportunities, to discuss together as a wider community. Why is CCC hosting refugee awareness Sunday? With all the above, how could we not?
I hope that many will gather together at CCC on June 23. For those who do, I hope for open hearts, open minds, open mouths, open ears, and open hands. For those who don’t, I hope they will find other ways to “commemorate the strength, courage and perseverance of millions of refugees.” For all of us, I hope that we will become more aware of the great need to both welcome the strangers in our midst and to engage the complex systems that force so many to leave their homes to become strangers in strange lands.