Tag: children at our borders

DACA + TPS = community over chaos

A few weeks ago, Bishop Alan Gates of the Diocese of Massachusetts and I signed an Amicus Brief on behalf of our dioceses joining 85 other religious organizations in support of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Yesterday Alan and I joined with Episcopal City Mission in supporting Centro Presente in a witness at Boston City Hall. We heard from immigrants here in this country through Temporary Protection Status (TPS) and from their children.

The Rev. Arrington Chambliss, Executive Director of Episcopal City Mission, Bishop Fisher, Bishop Alan Gates of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts. Photo: D. Fisher

These are two separate political issues relating to immigration, but my participation in both is rooted in one theology. Biblical imperatives about welcoming the stranger abound throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. Here are just a few:

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, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God (Leviticus 19: 33-34).

If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you (Leviticus 25:35).

You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt (Exodus 23:9).

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matthew 25:35).

Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God (Romans 15:7).

Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares (Hebrews 13:1-2).

At a prayer service before going to City Hall, Natalie Finstad of Episcopal City Mission described a key aspect of the early Church as she understands it from the book Transforming Mission by David Bosch.

“The nature of the early Christian mission manifested itself from the new relationship that came into being in community. Jew and Roman, Greek and barbarian, free and slave, rich and poor, woman and man, accepted one another as brothers and sisters. It was a movement without analogy, indeed a ‘sociological impossibility.’ Small wonder that the Christian community caused so much astonishment in the Roman Empire and beyond. In fact, the Christian community and its faith was so different from anything known in the ancient world that it often made no sense to others.”

Community. At City Hall, Mayor Marty Walsh took up that theme.

“They (immigrants here through TPS) are our neighbors and coworkers. They’re members of our faith community. They own homes and businesses. Taking this protection away these young people and family members will not make our community safer. To the contrary, it’s going to introduce chaos.”  (Cristela Guerra for The Boston Globe)

Chaos. Ten-year-old Gabriela Martinez of Leominster contrasted her dreams with chaos. She told the crowd that she wants to teach English as a second language to help immigrant families. She said that she doesn’t want to see families destroyed or divided. “In order to accomplish our dreams, our parents and family need residency, not just TPS,” the fifth-grader said. (Boston Globe)

Much of recent theological reflection has centered on finding out what God is up to in the world. We have a dynamic God, a community of divine Love always active, and not confined by, the church’s walls. I see God acting in the work of Amy Grunder, Director of Legislative Affairs for the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA). We had a long conversation in which she said she needs more allies in Western and Central Massachusetts. I see God acting in the testimony of Centro Presente and in the support of Episcopal City Mission and continuing collaboration of our two Episcopal dioceses. And, I see God at work in our Church, The Episcopal Public Policy Network is following these legislative developments closely and provides us with everything we need to advocate.

Protect Immigrant Youth: Support the Dream Act

Defend TPS


Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has given us a working definition for the 21st century. “We are the Jesus Movement that is out to change the world from the nightmare it is for so many into the dream God has for it.” Some of the change will come about if we resist the forces of chaos and become the community God intends for us to be.


We are already deeply immersed in much of this work.



Like so many, I have been inspired by the visit of Pope Francis to the United States. My heart rejoiced to read this statement to Congress:

“A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to ‘dream’ of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.”


What a great summary of what it means to be a “great” nation. And Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton are two of my personal spiritual heroes. Perhaps, we should follow up with a Quiet Day focusing on the insights of these two saints?

We should follow up on much of what Francis said knowing that we are already deeply immersed in much of that work. Here are two examples.

Welcoming the StrangerThe Bishop of Rome has long been an advocate for the rights of immigrants. The Bishop of Western Massachusetts came here with experience in that area. Our Social Justice Commission issued a document called Welcoming the Stranger: The Church and Immigration on September 21. We chose that date because it is the feastday of St. Matthew – his gospel has the story of Joseph, Mary and Jesus as refugees in Egypt. I invite you to “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” what is written here.  Immigration will continue to be a huge issue in the upcoming Presidential campaign.

Pope Francis took his name because he wants to follow in the way of St. Francis of Assisi who advocated for the poor and who is the patron saint of the environmental movement. With the leadership of our Missioner for Creation Care, The Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, we are addressing climate change in many ways on the diocesan and national level. Margaret spent this week in Washington D.C at numerous events including a meeting with Karen Florini, Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change at the US State Department. You can learn more about that visit here.

While the Pope was addressing Congress, I was speaking on the steps of City Hall at the Springfield Climate Justice Rally. I quoted the Pope and spoke about how many religious traditions are uniting in efforts to save our planet. VIDEO

westfield farmers market 051


Throughout New England, preachers are being urged to have at least one sermon about climate change in the season from October 4 (St. Francis Day) to Epiphany. “New Awakening- Preaching on Climate Change” is being held in Framingham, Massachusetts on October 20 to provide practical help in creating those sermons. REGISTER


Thank God for Pope Francis and his prophetic words. As Jesus gave us his public policy position in his first sermon in a synagogue in Nazareth: “I have come to bring good news to the poor (Luke 4:16-30).” Pope Francis has given us his public policy position which lines up pretty well with that of Jesus.

May this week be more than a time of inspiration. May it inspire commitment to being the New Creation that God has always envisioned.


US Refugee Crisis: From a Parent’s Perspective


“I contain multitudes” Walt Whitman famously said. For me, I am a follower of Jesus, a husband, a parent, a son, a brother, an uncle, a bishop (although Betsy has declared our home a bishop-free zone), an American, and a fan of a certain baseball team and the E-Street Band.

When I consider the refugee crisis going on in Texas right now – an estimated 52,000 children being detained- I do it through the lens of a parent. And I believe I’m on sound theological footing when I do that because Jesus consistently addressed God as his parent and our parent. So it is a good lens to use.

Tom Callard, our Missioner for Hispanic Ministry, recently urged us all the read an article called God Doesn’t Live Here Anymore: A Year in the Murder Capital of the World. It is about life in Honduras and can be found here. It is one of many stories coming out of Central America describing the horror of gang violence and dire poverty. As a parent, I would move heaven and earth to get my children to safety. Wouldn’t we all?

Let me use another lens – that of an American. I recently had a brief exchange with Archbishop Desmond Tutu – we are Facebook “friends.” I think he has 125,000 Facebook friends but he actually replied to my request for prayers for the children detained at our border. He readily agreed to pray and added that there are dire refugee situations around the world. Under international law, the host countries must take them in. According to “Arch”, if the United States does not take in these refugees (and they should be designated refugees because they are fleeing violence), what message will we send to the rest of the world? As a citizen in a country that wants to be a beacon of freedom and peace in the world, it is clear to me what we need to do.

Two weeks ago, Governor Deval Patrick gave a passionate speech saying he was looking for ways to host these immigrant children in our Commonwealth. He said, “My inclination is to remember what happened when a ship of Jewish children tried to come to the United States in 1939 and the United States turned them away, and many of them went to their deaths in Nazi concentration camps. I think we are a bigger- hearted people than that as Americans, and certainly as residents of Massachusetts.”

My hope is that we have the opportunity to host these children in our Commonwealth and in our Diocese. I hope that as a parent, as an American and as a follower of the one who said “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it. How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.”


Pray and get into the game…


A couple of weeks ago Betsy and I had the enjoyable experience of watching the World Cup final in a pub in Ireland with rabid soccer fans. It led me to remember our oldest daughter’s first soccer game. (Don’t worry. This is leading somewhere.)

When Caragh was very little, we would kick a soccer ball back and forth to one another. When we signed her up for the league for five year olds, she loved it. The practices again had children lining up opposite one another and kicking the ball back and forth. But now there were drills too, like spreading out across the field and kicking the ball from one player to another down the field until the one closest to the goal would shoot. But no one played defense.

Now the day of the first game arrived. All the players went to their positions. Then the whistle blew and almost everyone (certainly all the boys in this co-ed league) converged on the ball, all trying to kick it in a jumble of bodies. This was not what Caragh was expecting. She came off the field, walked right up to Betsy and me, and with her hands on her hips she said, “Children are kicking out there. Someone could get hurt. And that someone could be ME. Do something about this!” (Caragh later become a fierce competitor and an outstanding basketball player known for playing with reckless abandon.)

Ok, now for the point. It is so important that we pray for God’s creation, for the poor, for refugees, for peace in a violent world. It is vital that we pray often (“always” recommends Jesus) and fervently. Prayer shapes who we are. But sometimes that can feel like gently kicking the ball back and forth in the safety of our own backyard. People of faith also need to act – to get out and get into the game. Jesus got into a “game” in which someone could get hurt and that someone was him. He gave his life for the life of the world – he took on the emptiness of death and filled it with life. He took on the cruelty of the world and offered a new possibility of compassion – a possibility that could not be killed because the Holy Spirit would not let it.

Earlier this summer, the Social Justice Commission of our diocese put out a study document titled “Not Only With Our Lips, But In Our Lives: The Church and Social Justice”. It can be found here. I invite you to read it. It is a foundational document as to why we must engage the issues of our time.

And I invite you to consider these opportunities for action, among many, to witness to God’s saving mission in this world. On Sunday September 21 there will be the People’s Climate March in New York City. This will be a hugely significant, history-making event. Join with our Missioner for Creation Care, Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, and march behind a diocesan banner that reads: “Love God, Love your neighbor: Stop Climate Change.” Details can be found here.

As you know, casinos are on the ballot in Massachusetts in November. There will be a lot of discussion (and kicking) about this for the next three months. Our document A Theology of Casino Gambling has been used in dioceses throughout the country. You can find it here. Jesus came to bring good news to the poor. Casinos are bad news for the poor. We follow Jesus.

Activists and church leaders are gathering to address the issue of violence in the city of Springfield. I will get you more information as it becomes available. Consider joining Episcopalians Against Gun Violence. They have a Facebook page you can visit for more information.

Governor Deval Patrick gave a passionate speech the other day calling for Massachusetts to help in the housing of the refugee children now in Texas. We are involved in a dialogue about this and will get you more information when plans become finalized.

And finally, thank you to everyone “out on the field” – to all who work for Jesus’ mission of mercy, compassion and hope. You are witnesses to the dream God has for this world.