Hope, hospitality and entertaining angels: Joint UCC-DOC worship service streams on World Refugee Day

The statistics are overwhelming: 108.4 million people were forcibly displaced in 2022 due to persecution, violence or human rights violations. Out of that 108.4 million, 40% were children under 18. According to the UNHCR — the U.N. Refugee Agency — “we are now living in a time where 1 in every 74 people on Earth has been forced to flee” their homes.

Statistics, though, don’t tell the full story of a refugee’s strife towards a safe and welcoming place to call home. That narrative comes straight from the heart of those like Gustavo Sermeño.

As part of the June 20 World Refugee Day worship service entitled “Finding Freedom” — held jointly by the refugee and migration ministries of the United Church of Christ’s Global H.O.P.E. team and Week of Compassion, the immigrant and refugee response of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) — Sermeño shared his family’s plight of fleeing from Mexico and arriving in Portland, Ore. There, the Sermeños found Ainsworth UCC, a congregation who offered hospitality when they needed it.

“The United Church of Christ has a long history of sheltering, care and advocacy with the refugee community here in the United States and through the work we do with partners globally through Global Ministries,” said the Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson, Associate General Minister for Wider Church Ministries and co-executive of Global Ministries. “Journeying with these neighbors as they seek and make new lives is a part of our Christian witness and call to love our neighbors as ourselves.”

The “Finding Freedom” worship service can be watched on YouTube, and segments from the service, with the bulletin, are available on Vimeo.

‘Put into practice’

Sermeño was thankful for the people of Ainsworth UCC who chose to live into the Gospel’s call to radical welcome and love.

“We can talk all about Scripture, but they put into practice Matthew 25 where Jesus said, ‘I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed me,’” he said.

Sermeño’s message can be watched as part of the “Finding Freedom” worship service recorded on YouTube. Segments from the worship service, as well as the worship bulletin, are also available on Vimeo.

The Rev. Terri Hord Owens, DOC General Minister and President, underscored the need for hospitality in welcoming refugees. Opening the worship, Owens reminded participants of the Hebrew prophets’ call to welcome neighbors and Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor.”

According to Owens, welcome and love are made tangible by providing refugees with the things that “give us the ability to thrive as human beings.”

“We must ensure decent housing, food, water, healthcare,” she said.

Her message was bookended by her UCC counterpart, the Rev. John Dorhauer, UCC General Minister and President.

“How important it is, when we gather in times like this, to remind ourselves of our call to care for the stranger in our midst as if they were our own,” said Dorhauer, before offering a benediction for the service. “How important it is to remind ourselves that when one suffers, we all suffer; when one is tortured, we are all tortured; when one is in prison, we are all in prison. How important it is to remind ourselves of those who have had to leave their homeland, and who simply want to be treated with kindness compassion and love.”

Angels among us

Earlier in the service, the Rev. Lynne Smouse Lopez, pastor of Ainsworth UCC, read from Leviticus 19:33-34 — “Do not mistreat the foreigners who reside in your land” — and then from Hebrews 13:1-2 — “Don’t neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so some people have entertained angels without knowing.”

For Sermeño, the one-time strangers at Ainsworth have become angels, but he also knows this: those who are being helped currently might someday pay it forward.

“Somehow, these people can become angels in the future,” said Sermeño. For now, though, he said the way to keep moving forward is by “continuing to help, opening our doors and being hospitable with those people who are foreign to us.”

World Refugee Day, formerly known as Africa Refugee Day, was first held globally June 20, 2001, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention relating to the United Nation’s Status of Refugees.

Donna Frischknecht Jackson is the communications specialist for the UCC’s Wider Church Ministries.

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Categories: United Church of Christ News

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