KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (Sept. 19, 2016) – “People are not projects. This is about relationships.”
“It’s one thing to welcome someone to your church. It’s another thing to make them your family.”
“The power of authentic relationships can change our hearts and souls.”
When 32 participants gathered for two separate “Welcoming Immigrants” training sessions held Sept. 9-10 in Knoxville and Cleveland, the dominant lesson for all was clear:
Love is more than just giving things away or casual connections. Jesus Christ is really shared through relationships.
The training was sponsored by Holston’s Hispanic Ministry Team and the Outreach/Advocacy Team. Kristin Kumpf, director of organizing for the General Board of Church and Society in Washington, D.C., led four-hour sessions at Washington Pike United Methodist Church on Sept. 9 and Unity Center on Sept. 10.
Kumpf led participants from Holston churches as well as community agencies in discussion about their own communities and discoveries, while teaching four steps to becoming an immigrant-welcoming community:
- Understanding and articulating faith
- Building incarnational relationships
- Education for transformation
- Prayerful witness and affirming covenant
Building welcoming communities for newly arriving immigrants should be based on loving, mutual, reciprocal, egalitarian relationships, Kumpf said.
“You didn’t see Jesus running around and telling people what was wrong with them so that he could convert them,” she said. “What does it mean to build incarnational relationships? … The God in me meets with the God in you.”
To “understand and articulate our faith,” Kumpf suggested hosting a screening of the video “Jasmine’s Story" with an accompanying Bible study. To build relationships, a congregation could share food and traditions with other members or communities through a “cultural potluck.”
“It means investing time and energy, getting out of comfort zones, and more than likely, doing some things differently. But, if we are truly living the example of Jesus, we will make time for the other, and even center it around table fellowship,” said the Rev. Debra Dickerson, pastor of the Holston Gap Parish in north Georgia. Dickerson attended the Cleveland training and is also a member of the “Welcoming Communities” planning team.
The Rev. Pat Polis said the training was a reminder of the church’s mission and purpose.
“How can you be the body of Christ if you don’t know who your neighbors are?” said Polis, pastor at Washington Pike UMC.
Susan Montgomery, chair of the Outreach/Advocacy Team, said that participants “received both spiritual inspiration for bridging cultures and tangible ways to do that.”
“It is left to each team from the local churches to look at where their church is and what they might like to do next,” Montgomery said. “For example, several of us thought that our churches were at Step 1 which is education and raising awareness. Unity Center is farther along, and they are looking at having dinners bringing in diverse folks.”
Montgomery said that she and the implementation team hope to follow up in coming weeks with work on justice and advocacy as well as offer encouragement to those who participated in the training.
For more information, contact Susan Montgomery at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.