“Leading with Faith”
Last week, I gathered with twenty-one other Conference Ministers in Washington, D.C. to advocate for immigration justice in the halls of Congress. Over the course of just a couple of days, we collectively visited the offices of over 40 Senators and Representatives. We concentrated on those serving on Appropriations Committees, knowing that budget discussions were underway. We wanted to impact those discussions and advocate for a moral budget that would reflect the changes we were demanding in immigration policy and practices.
On the morning before all of us separated out into small groups to begin our visits, the group I was part of sat down to discuss our strategy for the discussions we wanted to have. What exactly would we say? How would we approach the specific policy and appropriations issues we wanted to address? And then one of us said the thing that would become our guiding principle and my silent mantra: “We should lead with our faith.”
And so in every Congressional visit, after the initial introductions were out of the way, we did just that; we led with our faith. We led by naming the values shaped by our sacred texts and the commitments of the United Church of Christ. We spoke of the mandates of our faith to love our neighbor and to welcome the stranger among us. We described our denominational vow to be an “immigrant welcoming” church. We emphasized our belief that every human being is a precious Child of God, with inherent dignity and worth that must be honored.
We led with our faith when we shared literally hundreds of letters written by local members of United Church of Christ congregations across the country whose own faith shaped their messages and fueled their passion for immigration justice.
We led with our faith as we shared stories about the phenomenal work so many of our congregations are doing to provide sanctuary to migrants threatened with deportation, or to protest at detention centers, or to provide loving compassion to those traumatized by the constant threat of family separation.
We led with our faith as we entered Congressional offices and strode across Capitol Hill wearing our clerical collars and stoles and Conference Minister medallions (all of which garnered constant attention).
And we led with our faith as all 22 of us stood on the lawn in front of the Capitol to demand justice and humane treatment for migrants in a press conference, and as we washed the feet of the migrants and “dreamers” among us who shared their own tender stories of despair and hope.
In each of our visits, in all of our conversations, the Minnesota Conference and so many of you were constantly on my mind. You were on my mind as I hand-delivered the 146 letters that you had personally written. You were on my mind when I talked to our Minnesota Senators and Reps specifically about the Sherburn County Jail and the detention of migrants taking place there, and when I shared with them the steady witness of our Elk River church and growing numbers of other MN UCC churches to protest what is happening there. You were on my mind when I told our elected officials that the people in our churches care about these issues deeply, and that you translate that care into border visits, local advocacy, vigils and protests, and sanctuary work. I told them how your faith leads you every day to stand up and speak out for immigration justice as an “immigrant welcoming” church.
When we allow our sacred scriptures and the values of love, mercy, and justice to drive how we interact with the world, powerful things can happen! We can create strong communities. We can make a meaningful difference in the world. We can speak with moral clarity and act with passionate purpose. We can touch the hurt in our world and transform pain to hope. That’s what leading with our faith looks like.
Thank you, Minnesota Conference members, for leading with your faith in ways that inspire me and fill me up with gratitude every single day.
With you on the journey,
Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister