Faith in New York clergy and Senator Schumer, May 2013
by David Rommereim
Many of you remember the hard work of Brooklyn Congregations United (BCU). We were key leaders in that effort to join with congregations and synagogues from Bay Ridge to Flatbush to activate our faith into public conversation. I loved it because it helped us as a ministry walk that fine line of distinction between "church and state" in the art of democracy.
Due to a funding crisis, last August the Board of Directors of BCU decided to close its doors and go on hiatus. The purpose was to pray, think, and search for our calling as faith leaders in an age where serious social predicaments face our neighborhoods. From September through January, I have been practicing the art of the personal one-on-one conversation through interviewing clergy from across our city. Since I have ministered in The Bronx, Manhattan and now Brooklyn, I have strong relations throughout our city. Every clergy I spoke with said something similar. "I need a place to work in community that works from my faith." We spoke about public spirituality and social engagement.
During that hiatus, Hurricane Sandy moved in to stay for a long time. Lives were altered. Relations were challenged. Souls were strengthened to assist wherever necessary in both responding and rebuilding.
I am proud of Good Shepherd leadership for allowing this place to be utilized to assist wherever possible; from the powerful little acts of kindness to the organizing for remedial recovery and restoration.
Through the Sandy Recovery, we have directly involved our office in the love response efforts in Coney Island and Staten Island. Our Administrator, Donna Lubrano, developed "Hearts Connected." This effort continues to bring necessary gifts to needy families.
I have also been intimately involved with the organizing efforts in Queens and Far Rockaway through the sister organization called, Queens Congregations Untied for Action (QCUA). QCUA is built on the same faith-based organizing principles of our effort in BCU. We are also related to PICO (People Improving Community through Organizing). PICO connects faith efforts in public life in over 17 states. Over one million leaders share the same principles that is seeking to put faith in action through effort in rebuilding strong neighborhoods and a democracy that is fair and just.
Since January of 2013, over 60 clergy from around the city agreed to move into a citywide PICO called Faith in New York.We are working with our lay leaders and expect to have organizing efforts in each borough. We want be able to have a voice in placing the values of our faith traditions in the mainstream of city policy. That refers to a public voice that works with everyone in the city, those whose backs are against the wall and those who are redecorating their walls.
Our first public action took place this past Monday in a face-to-face meeting with one of the architects of the National Immigration Reform Bill - our very own Senator Charles Schumer. Together we spoke about the fact that many of our members and neighbors want a just, a humane, and a fair bill. We spoke of one congregation in Corona Queens which celebrate Mass every week with 8,000 almost entirely first and second-generation immigrants. They will celebrate a First Communion this week with 500 3rdgraders. One half of the 500 are legal American kids, but kids whose parents are not properly documented. Faith in New York Clergy were encouraged by the Senator's efforts to listen to our concerns, and to bring to the narrative that many of the undocumented have economic lives that are near catastrophe.
As Lutherans, and as a congregation which seeks to practice the concrete nature of resurrection, I invite each of you to place in your prayers the divine guidance of our elected officials as they fight to make a bill on Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Our own members' families and lives are at stake in whether this reform is humane or punitive.
As a Christian, I believe God commands us to place our love where it really counts. "Love your neighbor as you love yourself." It cannot get any clearer than that.