By Tiffany Vail
Associate Conference Minister for Communications
SPRINGFIELD, MA - Meeting in a city where a Peruvian mother lived in sanctuary in a UCC church for 12 weeks, and as revelations surfaced of immigrant children being separated from their parents at the border, Connecticut and Massachusetts Conference Annual Meeting delegates took stands for immigrants this weekend.
The Connecticut Conference on Saturday passed an emergency resolution which declared that delegates to the meeting "condemn in the strongest terms possible the outrageous, inhumane, and unjust treatment of those 'strangers' seeking refuge at our southern border. The deliberate and cruel separation of infants and children from their parents must cease at once."
The resolution was brought by 21 delegates to the meeting who wanted to take an immediate stance against the current administration's policy of separating children from their parents at the border.
"For over 25 years now, I have been blessed to have traveled throughout Central and South America on mission and international service learning trips and worked, lived, and played with children and families in some of the most trying of circumstances," said Bruce Miller, pastor of the First Congregational Church of Meriden, CT. "As desperate families come to our border, I am not afraid of them. But I am now afraid for them. I am also afraid of any government official appropriating Scripture in an attempt to put God's fingerprints on unholy acts."
Miller was referring to Attorney General Jeff Sessions' use of a Bible verse to defend his department’s policy of prosecuting everyone who crosses the border from Mexico, saying the Apostle Paul gave the clear command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government "because God has ordained the government for his purposes."
The Massachusetts Conference, meeting in a separate but simultaneous plenary session, voted to declare itself an an "Immigrant Welcoming Conference" and to call on associations and churches to do the same.
The two plenary sessions took place at the second joint Annual Meeting of the Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island conferences at the Mass Mutual Center in Springfield, not far from South Congregational Church, where Gisella Collazo had lived for 12 weeks before receiving a stay of removal. She is married to an American citizen, and they have two children.
Vicki Kemper, the pastor of First Congregational Church of Amherst, MA, which has been providing sanctuary to Guatemalan immigrant Lucio Perez for eight months, called on delegates in Massachusetts to approve the resolution.
"I cannot overstate the symbolic and spiritual importance of this resolution and of our church and our Conference taking a stand in support and defense of immigrants," she said. "We started our journey with a decision a year ago to become an immigrant welcoming congregation. It opened us to all sorts of new experiences and awarenessess and spiritual growth, and we continue to covet your prayers and support. It would mean the world to us if the conference also became immigrant welcoming."
Last year, following a 2016 Annual Meeting vote, the Massachusetts Conference was one of five that sponsored a resolution to General Synod calling on the United Church of Christ to become an Immigrant Welcoming Denomination. That resolution passed overwhelmingly, and encouraged conferences and associations to follow suit. This year's Annual Meeting vote in Massachusetts was a follow-up to that Synod resolution.
The resolution encourages the development of US policy that facilitates the "respectful welcome and inclusion of all immigrants," and calls on its members to engage with their lawmakers towards this end; calls on Associations to "proclaim themselves Immigrant Welcoming and to encourage their members to become active Immigrant Welcoming Congregations and proclaim themselves to be so;" and "recognizes that addressing the concerns of immigrants and refugees is central to living the love and justice of Jesus."
Both resolutions quoted translations of Leviticus 19:33-34: "When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you.”