ALCOA, Tenn. (April 10, 2018) -- United Methodists joined a community outcry in response to arrests of workers at a Grainger County slaughterhouse after an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid there last week.
Members of Holston Conference churches prayed, donated and volunteered to help families whose relatives were missing or facing deportation. Holstonians participated in vigils and worship services; donated diapers, food, phone and gas cards; and volunteered to interpret and provide legal aid.
On April 5, ICE detained 97 employees suspected of being in the country illegally.
Bishop Dindy Taylor joined other faith leaders in expressing concern for families devastated by arrests and separation from their loved ones, including members of the United Methodist congregation, Iglesia Rios de Agua Viva.
“The pain that we have seen in the media grieves us,” Taylor said on April 9 in her Alcoa office. “I am thankful for those who have reached out and offered comfort and support. As the church, we are always compelled to respond when someone is hurting. It is my prayer that there will be a just resolution for those who were detained.” Taylor is resident bishop of Holston Conference.
The United Methodist Book of Discipline, the denomination’s governing document, states that the denomination opposes “immigration policies that separate family members from each other or that include detention of families with children, and we call on local churches to be in ministry with immigrant families.”
The Mountain View District office of the Holston Conference, based in Morristown, sent emails and text messages and distributed handouts to clergy, suggesting ways that churches could help neighbors affected by the raid. (See Mountain View’s list of ways to help.)
“We are certainly trying to wrap our minds around this tragedy that is separating families,” said the Rev. Tom Ballard, Mountain View District superintendent. “We think our best efforts are tapping into the ecumenical energy and partnering with the community as a whole which has already responded so generously.”
Several churches responded by taking special offerings on Sunday, April 8, to help families with legal costs, rent and utilities, said Linda Schumann, district administrative assistant. She expected other congregations to follow throughout the week and on Sunday, April 15.
“We’ve received calls from several churches, enough to tell that many are in the process of accumulating funds,” Schumann said.
Rutledge United Methodist, the church closest to where the raid happened, collected $905 during a Sunday special offering, said the Rev. Betty Shirley. Rutledge UMC has about 25 in average worship attendance.
“We have such an important part of the Latino population that it didn’t seem right to send our offering to the district office in Morristown,” Shirley said. Instead, she gave the $905 directly to St. John Pablo II Catholic Mission, which is paying rent and utilities for parishioners whose family breadwinners were arrested.
Shirley participated in a Sunday-evening worship service with the Spanish-speaking Catholic congregation, praying aloud for families whose relatives are in deportation processes. Four members from her church also joined the standing-room-only worship service, after they were invited by Father Steve Pawelk “to show our solidarity,” Shirley said.
Her congregation has had a seven-year relationship with the Catholic mission, she said, collaborating on a food pantry, Vacation Bible School and revivals, along with Rutledge Baptist Church.
“I’m very concerned about this situation,” Shirley said. “One child, who is a U.S. citizen, will have both of his parents deported. That’s just not right. Our system is broken.”
First United Methodist Church of Morristown collected a Sunday offering of $700, said the Rev. Walter Weikel, senior pastor. “But that doesn’t include money and donated items taken directly to St. Patrick Catholic Church. People were also volunteering in many ways at St. Patrick.”
In Morristown, St. Patrick Catholic Church quickly became a mission headquarters for the ICE raid aftermath, hosting relief agencies such as the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition as well as volunteers of many faiths and agencies.
IN THE TRENCHES
United Methodists also participated in vigils throughout east Tennessee, including a Monday-morning gathering of about 50 outside the Department of Homeland Security in Knoxville and a Monday-evening gathering at Hillcrest Elementary attended by 1,000 in Morristown.
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“It was beautiful to see people from different churches and backgrounds come together,” said the Rev. Asa Majors, associate pastor at First Morristown UMC, who attended the school rally. “The stories from the young people who have been displaced by the raid were gut-wrenching.”
Two teachers, who “have been in the trenches since the beginning” of the slaughterhouse raid, are members of her congregation. Robb and Liz Neill welcomed people at the school doors on Monday night, Majors said.
“I think the crowd was so large because these families are a part of the community. Their children are in the schools and they are active in churches. We consider them a part of who we are here in Morristown,” she said.
Susan Montgomery, chair of Holston’s Outreach/ Advocacy Team, was one of 10 United Methodists from various congregations standing in the drizzling rain Monday morning. They read scripture, prayed and sang with others in support of immigrants ordered to report to Homeland Security after the raid.
Montgomery said that a Rapid Response Team, created with the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, is mobilizing to help families traumatized by the raid as well as to help other community members who live in fear of deportation. The team aims to help victims with their immediate psychological needs, she said.
“It’s about trying to live into the gospel to love your neighbor,” Montgomery said. “I define that broadly, and God does, too.”
The Rev. Susana Lopez, pastor of Rios de Agua Viva, said one of the families in her congregation is receiving legal advice now and may need help with fees in the near future. In the meantime, Lopez said she and her congregation find comfort in scripture from Matthew 25: 35-36.
"Let us reflect Jesus at all times," Lopez said, "that through us the foreigner will feel welcomed, as if they were seeing God himself."
Contact Annette Spence at firstname.lastname@example.org
How to help families after ICE raid (The Call 4/10/18)
Family of employee detained during raid waits for answer (The Call, 4/6/18)
Bishop Dindy Taylor's statement (The Call, 4/9/18)