Bishop Writes on Refugee Crisis
Calls for Episcopalians to sponsor refugees
Bishop Dietsche wrote to the people of the diocese today calling for an active response to the refugee crisis in the middle east. The text of his letter follows:
September 11, 2015
All the world has stood aghast at the plight of refugees from Syria and other countries in the middle east making their way north through Europe. The stories of suffering and unwelcome, of despair and violence, and of hope in the face of all odds have captivated the attention and awakened the compassion of all people. The now-iconic photograph of the three-year old boy drowned on the Turkish beach has broken the hearts of all. He has become not only the visible sign of the despair of this refugee multitude, but to my eyes he is also a representative for all of the lost and forgotten, suffering and dying children across the globe, most of whose pictures we will never see.
In the face of such horrors, many are asking how they can help these refugees. Certainly donations of money are most welcome, as these people crossing borders, often abused and robbed by smugglers, are increasingly arriving in Central Europe with only the clothes on their backs.
But I would like to encourage parishes to do more, and to consider partnering with Episcopal Migration Ministries in offering sponsorship to a refugee or refugee family. The Episcopal Church has welcomed and resettled refugees from across the world since the nineteenth century. In 1940, in response to the Nazi oppression of Jewish and other refugees, the Presiding Bishop’s Fund for World Relief was founded, and Episcopal Migration Ministries is a daughter organization of PBFWR. The Refugee Act of 1980 opened the way for EMM and the Episcopal Church to formally engage the resettlement of refugees, and since then over 50,000 refugees have found safe haven in America, through the sponsorship of our churches and dioceses.
I am taking the immediate demands of this refugee crisis as an opportunity to commend EMM to your parishes, but I want to say that the current flood of Syrians moving toward or into Europe is just a fraction of the 60 million displaced persons around the globe, over 20 million of whom have fled across borders as refugees in search of a safe place to live. Should your church make this self-offering, you may be asked to sponsor a Syrian refugee family, or you may be asked to sponsor refugees from elsewhere in the world, but either way, you will know what it means to touch and relieve the true suffering and real needs of desperate people; what it means to welcome the stranger at the gate.
In the late 1990s the church I then served as rector did exactly that. We certainly did not know exactly what we were doing, but we agreed to be an EMM parish. One day we learned that a Muslim Bosnian family of four, from the refugee camp in Germany where they had spent the last nine years, was on their way to our town: to our church and to us. And we accepted certain obligations toward them. We made promises we had to keep. We said that we would take responsibility for them, and we did. And going on twenty years later, that family thrives in America and continues their membership as the one Muslim family in the Church of the Good Shepherd. In the end, it didn’t even cost us very much, except for the love we gave them, the welcome at journey’s end, and the sweat equity we expended on their behalf and in facilitating their settlement in our town. What we learned was that a medium-sized working-class congregation operating under a woeful deficit can defy the conventional wisdom and do big things. And be bold. And be transformed by it. Believe me when I say that it was by no means only that refugee family who received their freedom in those days, not only the lost sheep who were blessed.
Pope Francis has asked the Catholic churches of Europe to accept refugees into their midst. I ask the same of the churches of this diocese.
The Rt. Rev. Andrew M. L. Dietsche