New York City New Sanctuary Coalition: A Ministry of Accompaniment and the Bold Prayer of Our Feet
By Rev. David Rommereim
This Sunday, March 15, 2015, at Good Shepherd we will be honored with the presence of the Executive Director of NYC New Sanctuary Coalition, Ravi Ragbir. He will share stories about the status of the “ministry of accompaniment” that highlights the Sanctuary Movement in NYC and nationwide. He will also inform the broad reach of the coalition, as we have provided a public spirituality of justice and fairness in our dealings with an ever fearful community. The photos in this letter share with you the public work at Federal Plaza (ICE) through the bold prayer of encircling the plaza with faith leaders and migrants. This courageous prayer seeks a release of the barbarous grip in our national immigration policies that have injured families and communities seeking for a safe place to earn a living.
I asked Ravi to come and be with us so that those new to our membership may share an enlightened prayer, with and among the immigrant families both in our congregation, community, and city.
Good Shepherd is a founding member of the New Sanctuary Coalition. Since 2006 we have had various members of our “security team” learn how to accompany our members to Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE). We have also been consistently informed as to the issues migrants face in adjusting to a new land, a new environment, and finding a safe place to participate in community life. That has been our commitment at Good Shepherd. It is one example of the ministry dedicated to the radical hospitality of Jesus.
The members of Good Shepherd initiated this working relationship through a unanimous vote of our membership at our congregational meeting back in 2007. It was one of our saints, Walter Jensen, who reminded us that part of being a Christian, a faithful person of God, and an American, is remembering that we are all immigrants. Walter was 90 at the time he spoke those thoughts among us. He died three years later.
He reminded us that he himself was a product of an immigration system that was not helpful to the sojourner. He remembered that his father was an undocumented migrant in 1918 - a fiddle player on a ship transporting people from Denmark to the USA. In 1918 he jumped ship and, as Walter shared, “went underground for eight years.” Walter’s father then decided to become a citizen and gained citizenship eight years later.
At the time of our decision to enter the New Sanctuary Coalition our country was riddled with vitriolic political rhetoric from both sides of the Congressional isle. I received a few “hate mails” as we discussed this ministry with and among the migrants in our neighborhood. People thought the church was getting involved in politics. However, as was clarified through the actions of our members and sensitive neighbors - we were simply practicing our faith by “welcoming the stranger.”
At the time our congregation needed to make a decision about our involvement in such a politically hot-bed issue. We were well informed and educated on the depth of immigration policy over the last 50 to 60 years. Each new policy since 1965 endangered the migrant and made it more difficult for them. What once was the hallmark of America, expressed in our beloved Miss Liberty in NY Harbor, has become extremely complicated for today’s migrant from the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa, or points east. Our immigration laws are now punitive and harmful to families.
It was Mr. Jensen who invited our congregation to follow the pastor’s lead because, as he said, “We should practice our faith knowing that we are all immigrants.” The ministry of accompaniment has inspired the community of Good Shepherd to learn how to welcome many who are searching for a safe place to raise a family, work honestly, and earn a fair wage.
Ravi Ragbir will provide the stories of New Sanctuary this Sunday and share with us the powerful mechanism of accompaniment that serves those whose “backs are against the wall.”