The topic of immigration is front and center in Washington, D.C., and throughout the United States, and United Church of Christ congregations are taking this opportunity to make their voices heard with unprecedented vigor. Energized UCC groups are recognizing annual events like International Workers' Day and Immigrant Rights Sunday this week as Congress debates immigration reform legislation and a pathway to citizenship comes closer to being a reality for the country's 11 million undocumented immigrants.
"There is no question that we are more energized this year," said Daniel Romero, vice chair of Justice and Witness Ministries for the Chicago Metropolitan Association of the UCC. "Everybody recognizes the significance of this moment, as most people would say this is the civil rights issue of our time."
International Workers' Day, also known as May Day, is celebrated annually on May 1 by more than 80 countries worldwide, when workers take to the streets to demand higher wages, better benefits and improved working conditions. Many UCC groups from Chicago and its suburbs will join a rally and march to recognize May Day and pay tribute to the Haymarket Martyrs, a group of activists and union organizers that fought for the original eight-hour workday in the late 1800s. Groups from UCC-related Chicago Theological Seminary, Wellington Avenue UCC, Glenview Community Church UCC, Church of the Three Crosses UCC, Good News Community Church UCC and Iglesia Unida UCC are among the groups participating.
"This is really significant, needless to say, with the immigration issue being so prominent on the national scene," Romero said. "The UCC is really a driving force in organizing, mobilizing and educating people around all of this."
Members from Washington Park UCC in Denver will also participate in a rally at the state capitol followed by a march. Despite an unexpected winter storm, Nancy Rosas, Washington Park's minster for spiritual formation, said the event had about 200 confirmed attendees.
"The message is to call our government to include all of the workers and to integrate them more fully," Rosas said. "All people need to have access to documents."
UCC minister the Rev. Deborah Lee participated in an interfaith vigil at the City Center Plaza in Oakland, Calif., April 30, which brought 125 marchers together for prayer and spiritual preparation before the May Day activities. Lee, who serves as the director of the Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights, said people will be marching from six different starting points throughout the Bay area May 1.
"The vigil was to prepare the hearts of the marchers and to open the hearts of Congress," Lee said. "We wanted to remind people why they are doing what they are doing today, and bring the immigrant and non-immigrant communities together."
In addition to International Workers' Day, the UCC designates the first Sunday in May as Immigrant Rights Sunday. On May 5, congregations are urged to lift up immigrants and include stories about immigrants in their worship services. Washington Park UCC will recognize Immigrant Rights Sunday in its upcoming service, connecting the idea of the beloved community and creation to hospitality and justice for immigration.
"On May 5, congregations are urged to lift up the immigrant, 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," said the Rev. Mari Castellanos, UCC minister for domestic issues. "This is also an excellent time to call members of Congress and tell them to support fair immigration reform."
The United Church of Christ has a long history of affirming the dignity of immigrants and working for comprehensive U.S. Immigration policy. Since 1995, General Synod – the main deliberative body of the UCC – has repeatedly called for a fair and human approach to U.S. immigration policy that protects families and respects the humanity of our immigrant brothers and sisters.