The first Sunday in May has been designated Immigrant Rights Sunday within the United Church of Christ. Justice and Witness Ministries and Wider Church Ministries are urging congregations to lift up immigrants on this day: to learn about their concerns, honor their contributions to our country and communities, hear their pain, pray for their well-being, and listen to hear where God is leading us regarding issues of immigration.
Welcoming the stranger among us as native born is part of our faith tradition, for we too were once strangers (Exodus 22:21, Leviticus 19:33, Deuteronomy 10:17-19). However, too often the immigrants among us are rejected, treated as outcasts and placed on the margins of society.
May 1st is international Labor Day and has become a day in which we recognize the value and labor of immigrants in the U.S. On the first Sunday in May, congregations are encouraged to include stories about immigrants in their worship service and explore avenues to advocate for immigrant justice. Below are the most current issues this year on immigration with potential ways to get involved to limit deportations and unnecessary detention of immigrants.
Prayer and Worship Resources
Transformational Hospitality through Welcoming the Sojourner
May 1: UCC Immigrants Rights Sunday
Source: UCC Sermon Seeds
Prayers of the People
God of love, God of mercy and God of liberation, bless this movement for immigrants to gain the dignity that all people deserve. We pray for the more than two million families who have recently been deported and whose families have been separated. Today we pray for relief from deportation for more than five million immigrants through DACA+ and DAPA. We pray that our Supreme Court Justices might take the side of compassion and allow this much-needed program to move forward. We know they are the highest court in the land, but we look to a higher court and a higher law, one where we understand that loving one another and welcoming one another into God’s family is of the utmost importance and we pray to keep these families together. Amen.
Leader: God who led our people out of the desert and into a land of milk and honey, we pray for all those immigrants struggling on their migrant journey now.
All: Our tradition is one of people on the move, on the journey and today we walk in prayer and solidarity with those sojourners in our midst who need our love.
Leader: We have seen too many families separated by these outdated and unjust laws, more than 2.5 million deportations in recent years, we cry out for justice.
All: We pray for the judges in the highest court of this land, that they may be wise and compassionate in their proceeding to lift so many millions of people out of the fear of deportation.
Leader: We look to a higher law, a higher power that reminds us to love our neighbor and welcome the stranger.
All: We pray for unity and love among our brothers and sisters, no matter their national origin, or documentation status, we are all children of God.
by Noel Andersen
Paul was a troublemaker. In fact he was at times defiant to his detractors. Along his journey, he was kicked out of various cities, beaten and imprisoned, yet he never seemed to give up. His mission took place in a time when Christianity was just a minority sect of Judaism, not the sponsored religion of the empire that it later became.
Acts 14 describes Paul's first mission in Iconium as a great success because large crowds of Jews and Gentiles gathered to learn, but this threatened those in power and they grew jealous, eventually convincing the masses to stone Paul and Barnabas in Lystra, dragging them out of the city and leaving them for dead.
Paul had a vision of being called towards Macedonia. So after traveling over 150 miles, they met a woman named Lydia just outside of the city who was a leader in a small local Jewish community of faithful women. Jewish communities often worshiped on the margins of these cities occupied by the Roman Empire. Lydia was either single or a widow and was a powerful woman who dealt in fine purple cloth. After being baptized, she said (according to the text), "If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us" (Acts 16:15).
Her warmth overwhelmed them as she offered these sojourners a place in her home. Without much time passing, Paul and Silas were brought before the magistrates, discriminated against for being Jews, and were again beaten and imprisoned, before being set free by a great earthquake that loosened their bonds and opened the prison walls (Acts 16:26).
Just as Barnabas, Silas and Paul, many are dedicated to the mission to spread the good news, to serve the poor and to set the prisoner free. Sometimes the greatest mission is to put food on the table, or to escape grave violence that threatens their family; in these circumstances, crossing borders becomes a form of resistance.
Many of us in the UCC don't know the experience of fleeing for our children's safety, but we hear the stories all around us. We live in a time that has the most displaced people in history. From the conflict in Syria to the gang violence in Central America causing women and children to flee death threats, we now have the most refugees globally since World War II.
At the same time, our government has deported 2.5 million immigrants in the last several years. Our immigration system is outdated and there is no way for the 11 million undocumented people living the U.S. to adjust their citizenship status. This has lead to an unprecedented number of separated families and a sense of terror and fear among immigrant communities.
The most common excuse to discriminate against those who are undocumented is that they're here "illegally." However, when the motivation to migrate is to feed their family or escape violence, should the framework of legality be the metric for what's moral and ethical? Jesus upset authorities by healing on the Sabbath, just as Paul was thrown out of the city for professing beliefs authorities claimed went against their laws.
We come from a faith tradition that was once the minority, placed on the margins, and our leaders were beaten and imprisoned for professing belief in Christ's teachings. The Holy Family was a refugee family fleeing the political persecution of Herod. Israelites were treated as outcasts and slaves in the land of Egypt, and the Hebrew Bible reminds us again and again, "Any immigrant who lives with you must be treated as if they were one of your citizens. You must love them as yourself, because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God" (Leviticus 19:34).
Often, once we attain a certain level of comfort, or wealth, we can forget our own history. Lydia, who built a successful business, reminds us that we are called to be a hospitable people and to offer what we have. At a time when Paul might have lost faith in his mission after rejection, Lydia and her followers gave him hope to carry on.
This small faith community of women were themselves living on the margins of Phrygia within occupied territory. The patterns of patriarchy that exist within the Christian institution unfortunately leave out the women leaders of the early Christian movement, but Lydia, who is known as the first convert in Europe, represents the strength of women faith leaders' capacity for spiritual transformation and hospitality to help a larger movement. Lydia reminds us that we must re-center our theology to the space of the margins, the space where God manifests transformation and liberation.
Some UCC congregations have fallen into the comfort of the status quo and have lost the vision to welcome new people and they have lost their capacity to challenge authority. Part of congregational revitalization, vitality and growth is the willingness to provide hospitality, to offer a prophetic voice, and to speak truth to power.
As faith communities we cannot stand by idle: we have a moral responsibility to act and to show an extravagant welcome to refugees and immigrants through our ministries. The Sanctuary Movement is one example where congregations are willing to take a prophetic step. Shadow Rock UCC in Phoenix and University Church in Chicago (DOC/ UCC) are two congregations that have offered Sanctuary to immigrants willing to take the courageous step to fight their deportation order.
"Abandoning my children is not a choice I can make. I live for them, and I will fight to stay with them," says Jose Juan Frederico Moreno, who took sanctuary at University Church in Chicago in order to fight his deportation order and stay with his family.
Rev. Julian DeShazier responded, "When Jose Juan was placed in deportation proceedings and ordered to leave the country and his family by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Chicago Field Office, my church took emergency moral action and welcomed him into Sanctuary. Jose Juan has called Illinois home for almost half of his life. His US citizen children – ages 2, 5, 9,12, and 14 – have never known any other home. Our faith compels us to respond to injustice, to welcome the stranger, to promote families staying together."
These UCC churches have made a decision to offer a prophetic and moral platform to welcome the sojourner and create space for those on the margins to tell their story. They are joined by at least 50 congregations willing to offer Sanctuary and another 350 congregations that support the Sanctuary Movement from all different faith traditions.
Your congregation can join this movement through supporting or offering Sanctuary (http://sanctuarynotdeportation.org/), or through becoming an Immigrant Welcoming congregation, a model of covenant and commitment promoted by the UCC National Collaborative on Immigration.
Together we can strengthen our congregations and grow the movement for social justice by offering a prophetic voice to welcome immigrants, refugees and all people, no matter who they are, or where they are on life’s journey. By creating space to listen to those who are traditionally marginalized, we can be part of creating a theology from the margins. Through this type of transformational hospitality our congregations can thrive and re-vitalize as we work to build welcoming communities.
*If your congregation would like to get more involved on immigrants' rights advocacy and organizing efforts please contact Rev. Noel Andersen - mailto:email@example.com.
The Rev. Noel Andersen serves as UCC & CWS Grassroots Coordinator for Immigrants' Rights in Washington, D.C.
Need more inspiration? Check out this sermon by Rev. Michael Mulberry, "God Does Not Create Illegitimate or Illegal."