Sunday, December 17, 2017

Urban Church, Global City: Dolores, Uruguay


"El Granero de Pais"

The city of Dolores, Uruguay, calls itself el granero de pais, that is the barn of the country. It is the center of the surrounding agricultural  area and sits on the left bank of the San Salvador River before it empties into the Uruguay River. 

Dolores' true claim to fame is it's annual celebration to welcome spring every October. For one weekend a year, every other activity  stops and .the  city fills with visitors from all over. 
Festival float
While there are many accompanying activities like carnival games and rides, music, food and drinks, the center piece of the festival is a grand parade that passes through the city's streets.
A grand parade

Ostensibly organized by the lcoal high school students, the hands of the  parents are clearly visible and the students joke abut their parents' intensity about the event. (Something strikes me as universal about that...)One can imagine the fathers who drive the vehicles that haul the giant decorated floats gathering for a beer after. 

The festival is so all consuming if the city that even church  services set aside for the weekend. La Iglesia Valdense, however prides itself  on the massive barbecue it produces. Thanks to a member who donates a whole   cow, and the dedicated  work of a crew of volunteers, it is truly a church activity of another kind truly building...and  And that is typical of this congregation. 

One important strategy for most successful urban ministry is to be engaged in one's community in integral ways.  And this is very much a reality of the way this congregation lives out its ministry. A year ago a tornado touched down in Dolores, a virtually unheard of climatic event. Four people died and some 200 were injured. A third of the people lost their homes A high school was destroyed.
School destroyed by tornado
And the  church itself was blown away.  A terrifying experience for the community.

In talking about the church's response, Pastor Carola Tron quotes Isaiah 44:26:
26 who confirms the word of his servant, and fulfills the prediction of his messengers; who says of Jerusalem, "It shall be inhabited," and of the cities of Judah, "They shall be rebuilt, and I will raise up their ruins"; 

Even while devastated itself,
Add caption
the church gathered for worship among the ruins of its sanctuary and turned to serving their neighbors. Only when the neighbors were taken care of did the church turn its attention to its own needs. 
with the people of La Iglesia Valdense de Dolores

Eventually a new functional multipurpose building was constructed making use of what was still usable from the existing community house.  The new bulldog houses worship, fellowship, education and meals. The congregation though small, feels vibrant and united. The response to the tornado and yes, the annual barbecue, show an urban church actively engaged in its community.  (And it was a joy to be accompanied by Juan on cajon when I sang ).
Joined by Juan on cajon

Pastor Carola ...and her sister Claudia in Parana, Argentina...are typical of the dynamic  and creative leadership of women pastors I have met on my visit. Pastor Carola Tron is also currently serving as Moderadora of la Iglesia Valdense del Rio Plate. Such leaders are a rich resource for the Waldensians of the Rio Plate. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Advent 2: Preparing the Way

Decorated for Christmas

A cold December morning. The first snow. The second Sunday in Advent. And I'm on my way to Good Shepherd Faith Church. I enter the church to find it lit up with lights and holiday decorations. We light the Advent candles.
Lighting the second candle
Here was my "prompting," as they call the sermon, intending  and expecting ,response... for the day: 

'Comfort Ye"

This always used to be one of my favorite Advent Sundays.  Some of my favorite Bible verses and one of my favorite characters, John the Baptist. SO many when we all got together and did "Comfort Ye" at West Park? It continues to this day at SPSA but long forgotten is the role of our friend John in creating the project. I can still hear the solo tenor voice, maybe our late friend Philip,  opening the evening in the darkened sanctuary, "Comfort Ye..." Handel's Messiah. 

"Prepare Ye"

And the times at West Park when we would  open this Sunday with Godspell's "Prepare ye the Way of the Lord..." Has it ever been done  better?  That solo voice (in the wilderness?) crying out and one by one joined by others? 

Yes....lots of memories. But here interrupting, disrupting, disturbing...comes John the Baptist...crying out..'Prepare Ye the way of the Lord.."

So...who is this guy?  This man dressed in animal skins and living on 'locusts and and wild honey?" Like a dedicated  nazirite, those ascetic prophets of the Lord. 

By tradition, Jesus' cousin.His mother Elizabeth  carrying  him as Mary carried Jesus. Son of Zechariah, a  temple priest..son of a tall steeple, 5th Avenue or Brick Presbyterian (Associate) Pastor.  One way or another, a child of privilege. Turns hippie and heads to the wilderness. 

Or like Jay Baker, son of Jim and Tammy Faye, who walked out of the PTL  Club televangelist world and eventually walked into Pete's Candy Store in the wilderness of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, tattoos and all, to start the Revolution Church....

Think about that....

Jill Duffield who writes lectionary commentaries for the Presbyterian Outlook, reminds of  us of an old story about the importance of punctuation:

Let's eat,mother
Let's eat mother.
Commas save lives

In this  case it's  the placement of a colon:
In Isaiah . 
3   A voice cries out: 
     “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, 
          make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 

In Mark:
          who will prepare your way; 
3   the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 
          ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, 
          make his paths straight,’” 

Are we to hear a voice crying out in the  wilderness to prepare a way?
Or hear a voice telling us to prepare a way in the wilderness?
And does it ultimately matter?

I've got two issues for  you...
First of all, what is wilderness to you?
and second, What does preparing the way mean?

Wilderness...good or bad? Positive or negative? It's where Israel became a people...where Jesus went to be tempted, to figure himself out... a pace where thngs are stripped down, simplified, clear... does it  feel like  a wilderness now...(Duffield)
 Such wilderness wanderings are fraught with wild beasts, unexpected visitors and disorienting landscapes, but they also include manna, water and angels.

You don't have to go to the wilds of northern New York, those thick forests north of  Lake Placid on the way to Canada...there can be a wilderness right here in the city..Williamsburg or Upper West Side..

What is your wilderness? What do you hear there?

How do we prepare?  The women have called us to attention here...with the "me too" Al Franken's down...but  what about Roy Brown? And need i say it, the president himself?

And we can't let this issue  lead us to forget that we who are white folks have a lot of work to do to start deconstructing white privilege as well as male privilege. What have you all in this congregation experienced in your efforts to be a multicultural congregation learned? What do you have to share? What stories to tell? 

I had dinner last night with the former Dutch Human Rights Ambassador to the United Nations...He said that the diplomats he knows   want to know why we aren't rising up...filling the streets...what's going on?

I couldn't really answer that. The Revolutionary Communist Party has tried, but as could be expected, no mass uprising yet.  

Start by being honest to yourself about yourself..then  we all come together ...that's how we begin to prepare the way...

This time  there was  much conversation about what preparing the way meant, especially  in this day. Some discussion  of Jesus' anger. Knowing  time and place of our responses. The general mood of tension in our subways and buses. The power of just one kind  act. Our responsibility to lighten the world with kindness.  A good conversation. 

Over coffee downstairs there is casual conversation with the arriving members of the Korean language service. The conscious desire to connect in simple ways. 

They call this the Advent Sunday of Peace. 

Getting ready to preach

First Reading Isaiah 40:1-11

1   Comfort, O comfort my people, 
          says your God. 
2   Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, 
          and cry to her 
     that she has served her term, 
          that her penalty is paid, 
     that she has received from the Lord”s hand 
          double for all her sins.

3   A voice cries out: 
     “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, 
          make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 
4   Every valley shall be lifted up, 
          and every mountain and hill be made low; 
     the uneven ground shall become level, 
          and the rough places a plain. 
5   Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, 
          and all people shall see it together, 
          for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

6   A voice says, “Cry out!” 
          And I said, “What shall I cry?” 
     All people are grass, 
          their constancy is like the flower of the field. 
7   The grass withers, the flower fades, 
          when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; 
          surely the people are grass. 

8   The grass withers, the flower fades; 
          but the word of our God will stand forever. 
9   Get you up to a high mountain, 
          O Zion, herald of good tidings; 
     lift up your voice with strength, 
          O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, 
          lift it up, do not fear; 
     say to the cities of Judah, 
          “Here is your God!” 
10  See, the Lord GOD comes with might, 
          and his arm rules for him; 
     his reward is with him, 
          and his recompense before him. 
11  He will feed his flock like a shepherd; 
          he will gather the lambs in his arms, 
     and carry them in his bosom, 
          and gently lead the mother sheep.

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

1   LORD, you were favorable to your land; 
          you restored the fortunes of Jacob. 
2   You forgave the iniquity of your people; 
          you pardoned all their sin.                                              Selah

8   Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, 
          for he will speak peace to his people, 
          to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts. 
9   Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, 
          that his glory may dwell in our land.

10  Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; 
          righteousness and peace will kiss each other. 
11  Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, 
          and righteousness will look down from the sky. 
12  The LORD will give what is good, 
          and our land will yield its increase. 
13  Righteousness will go before him, 
          and will make a path for his steps.

Gospel Mark 1:1-8

1The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

2As it is written in he prophet Isaiah, 
     “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, 
          who will prepare your way; 
3   the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 
          ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, 
          make his paths straight,’” 
4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Urban Church, Global City: Fray Bentos, Uruguay


Visiting Fray Bentos

Fray Bentos is the capital of Uruguay's Rio Negro Department at the northen end of the Rio Plate Estuary. Fray Bentos is also a long beloved brand of canned meat in the United  Kingdom. But, as is typical in the global economy, the brand is now owned by Campbell Soup and the meat is processed in Scotland. While a Brazilian enterprise (Brazilian companies turn up a lot in Uruguayan economic conversations) has recently  reopened the plant---with a greatly reduced number of employees--deindustrialization is part of the context of urban ministry in Fray Bentos. 

On the other hand, Fray  Bentos location on the river makes it a wonderful gateway to the nearby beach world of vacation, leisure and resorts. Pastor Dario Barolin takes me on a tour of the Canas beach  area because its related to the story of his church. Along the way we are greeted by horses, which as Dario puts it, are "free" not "wild."
The free horses greet us 

Looking south
There's always something about  beach resorts in the off season. You can almost hear the sound of laughter,of children, A sense of summer seasons past and ready to come. The closed food and ice creams stands. We stop in quiet coves looking out on the water.
Quiet cove

The congregation had come into possession of property here and it had become a very important project of the church. The pastor however, as the story goes, felt the beach property was taking up too much of the congregation's time and energy. So rights to the property were not renewed. The result was a painful split in the congregation with several long time families leaving. So a major part of Pastor Dario's ministry  here has been seeking to  heal the hurts of that division.

It's significant that some who had separated from the  church come to our gathering. And one woman states that she has decided to return. Dario will tell me how important this is. Of those who have come, there is a good diversity of professions including teachers, counselors, etc. And a small but lively group of teen aged girls.  And once again the importance of the summer camp to building relationships can be seen. 
La Iglesia Valdernse de Fray Bentos

We share conversation, food and music. There is a very real sense of moving beyond the division, the conflict. Possibilities of more reconciliation remain. But either way, the congregation is moving on. There is a sense of hope. WIth real possibilities for  ministry ahead. 


After I share some songs, the teen age girls all want to come and pose for pictures. My friend and fellow musician Pat always says you have to know your audience. I will tell him I go over well with teen aged girls in small river cities in Uruguay. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Advent 1: What are we waiting for?


Ready for Advent

So on this first Sundayy in Advent, my birthday, I'm back to Beverley Road Church in Brooklyn.  After an unusually long ride on our increasingly broken subway system, I have ti take. cab to get to the church anywhere near on time. When I get there apologetic, the gracious response is. Does it look like we've started yet?

Here is my reflection for the Sunday:

So it's that time of year again. For us Christians, it is Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas. I learned thsi year that back in the day, Advent used to be 40 days before Christmas,  just like the 40  days of Lent before Easter.  I learned  about it when I saw a picture of my grandson with a small lantern  on St. Martin's Day, a day I never knew about, in Germany. (So strange that  in such a secular country, thee is still public celebration of days like St. Martin's Day and Ascension Day and New York City, the sign of a holiday is if the city cancels alternate side parking ) In the 6th century, except for Saturdays and Sundays, a fast would be declared from November 11th until January 6th. 

We've shortened that to 4 weeks. But we still wear purple,just like in Lent, (Although we've also added blue for hope.) And in traditional liturgical churches, like Anglicans and Lutherans, no Alleluias are sung until  Christmas Eve. And t's a bit strange because out  there, the world  it's all hustle and bustle of the season rfom the  absolute madness  of "Black Friday" until Christmas. From Halloween on, Christmas  decorations and music being played everywhere. And somehow, in here, we've got to provide a quiet place for some reflection. 

It's a time of preparation.  Of getting ready. And waiting. With three Christmases in our minds. First, the historic Christmas, when Jesus was born. Second, this year's Christmas, the one just twenty two days away, and then the final coming of Jesus. Somehow we keep all these in mind while also caught in all the memories of our past Christmases. 

There is this sense of urgency. Remember "People Get Ready there's a train a comin..." ( I see heads nodding...) There is no better Advent song. 

But the question is what are we waiting for? Mark's message seems pretty clear. You better get ready because he's coming back and you're  not sure when. But what exactly does that mean?

Are we really sitting here waiting for Jesus to come again? Is that something to worry about or fear? or something to look forward to?
What do you think about a Second Coming? How does it affect  your understanding of Jesus?

And we've got these strange  combinations of ordinary and extraordinary, 
In Isaiah, we've got heavens torn open and quaking mountains but also a potter and clay.  In Mark, we've got a total eclipse  of the sun (well, we've had that!) and falling stars but then the tenderness of the fig trees' shoots. (And what signs of tenderness do we see announcing  the coming of the Kindom of God?) Jesus tells us to watch for signs, then says we can't know. He says "this generation won't pass away..." but it's been over 2000 years!  What's being asked of us here? What difference does  it make?

The kids use the expression "woke."  Like you've been asleep and now you know what's going on. ("Keep awake" says Mark. 13:35) Like look what generations of women put up with for years until the Harvey Weinstein dam broke and the chorus of " me  too's" began. Now we know. Men, I wonder how many of our sisters here this morning have had their own "me too"moment. Once you know, you can't go back. 

The Federal Court recently actually brought in a  wrongful death  judgment verdict in the death of Mohammed Bah of Harlem at the hands of  police. Those of us who are white have to understand that  even though we are not personally guilty in the system of white privilege, we do benefit from it every day. And even though not guilty, we are responsible. We are called to begin the deconstruction  of that system immediately. 

We're talking about active waiting, not idle speculation. Like if he did come back, what would he find us doing and how do we feel about that?

It's like you know, we've got chronos and kairoskronos regular tick tock time, minute after minute, and kairos  when God breaks in and disrupts. Are we waiting for that?  Are we waiting for a deus ex machina? A messiah figure swooping down from the sky?

I'm thinking of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas carol" today. Actually, congress has me thinking about Ebenezer Scrooge. After this tax reform bill they are  intent on passing. Like on what world does it make sense to lower taxes on the super rich and then  remove tuition and loan reductions from the middle and working class? Cruelest of all, make blue collar scholarship benefits taxable? What??!!  It's like permanently  locking a generation of people out of the middle

When approached by gentlemen seeking charitable contributions for the poor, Scrooge responds: 

"At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge," said the gentleman, taking up a pen, "it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and Destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir."

"Are there no prisons?" asked Scrooge.

"Plenty of prisons," said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

"And the Union workhouses?" demanded Scrooge. "Are they still in operation?"

"They are. Still," returned the gentleman, "I wish I could say they were not."

"The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?" said Scrooge. [Stave 1: 50-51]

Later, the Spirit of Christmas Present mocks Scrooge's former insensitivity by hurling his own words back at him as he regards the appalling children of humanity, Ignorance and Want:

They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.

Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.

“Spirit! are they yours?” Scrooge could say no more.

“They are Man's,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree; but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!” cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. “Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse! And bide the end!”

“Have they no refuge or resource?” cried Scrooge.

“Are there no prisons?” said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. “Are there no workhouses?”

The bell struck twelve. [Stave 3: 108-109]

Earlier, Marley had told him:

Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

Finally, Isiah has some strong, comforting but strongnwords for us:

Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
    we are the clay, and you are our potter;
    we are all the work of your hand.
9 Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord,
    and do not remember iniquity forever.
    Now consider, we are all your people.

That word is ALL....All....that's people who voted for Trump  too...all means all...

How do we  live that  out, make that real?  What  better time to think about it , what better season to engage that than now?

What are we waiting for?

On this Sunday, we celebrate communion. And pray for those we love. An then gather downstairs for the breaking of bread together.  I miss my friend Geraldine who is not here today, I'm becoming aware thatch of the liturgy is probably her work and that he musical selections and variety reflect her love of music. One of those invaluable lay people who keep these churches together.   I notice the collection of photographs of earlier days, when the congregation was bigger. Remembered events and activities. Signs of their recent Thanksgiving celebration. The usotms and practices of this church that keep the body together, even through the struggles of aging and growing smaller. A faithfulness that won't let go....

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Urban Church: Global City: Paysandu, Uruguay


With the congregation in Paysundu

The city of Paysandu sits on the banks of the Uruguay River just south of the General Artigas  Bridge that connects Uruguay to the Entre Rios Province of  of Argentina.  The 4th  largest city in Uruguay, it's surprisingly cosmopolitan for a city of its size. It is famous for a battle that turned back  an invasion  from Brazil 253 years ago today. (2/12/1864). 

We have come here to visit with the  local Waldensian  Church
Pastor Nicolauand its  Pastor Marcelo Nicolau

and visit. Driving  around the city with him, the tensions of the city are clear. On the one hand, there is the thriving Brazilian owned  Norteña brewery, well located  because of the  proximity of the agricultural raw products needed for brewing.  The Azucarlito sugar factory , and  Paylana, a producer of world-class woolen fabrics, and Paycuero, a leather company. . Paysandú is also the centre of plantation forest industry. The forest plantation  industry is controversial because of the demands of a massive paper plant built near the river. Even with these, the effects  of deindustrialization can still be seen and life can be extremely difficult for those on the margins of society, the edges of the city. 

The neighborhoods on the edges of the city come close to what some describe as shanty towns. Horses are very visible throughout the neighborhoods as a vital part of a family's economy. Pastor Marcelo laughs and says, "Argentina has its dogs and Uruguay its horses." And I was happy to learn that the Church had begun a Bible Study in a home in one of the marginal  neighborhoods. 

i was also surprised to learn for the  first time of the high rate of suicide in Uruguay. It is surprising in a country known to be "safe and secure" , secular and progressive. (Or maybe not.) At any rate this would seem to be a spiritual issue worth pursuing by la Iglesia Valdense in Uruguay. 

Back at the church, the community is gathering. There is still a number of traditional programs continuing at the church in addition to worship. These include women's group, youth group, Bible school and a special sales program to support mission. There's also a  choir.
The choit
Tonight after I shared my music,an original "Rest Awhile" and Bob Dylan's "Blowin in the wind,"
"Blowin in the Wind...''''
the choir shared their music accompanied  by the pastor on guitar. (Nearly every Waldensian pastor I met played the guitar. Not all, but nearly.)
Pastor with guitar
And when they began to sing "Blowin in the wind" in Spanish, I came up an joined them.

Among  the challenges facing the Paysandu community will be :
1. Overcoming a certain weariness just from keeping things going. 
2. responding to the social,political, psychological challenges that exist in the context of the city.
3. Bringing together people from the marginal neighborrhoods with the more established middle class congregation.

The continuing youth group is a sign of hope, once again with friendships, espcially from summer camp, leading to occasional new members. 

Time for food and refreshment before the long ride back to Dolores.  

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Statement with sign on....

principles of sanctuary in response to the global escalaton of displacement
We express our deep concern for the well-being of the refugee children, families and all migrants
currently arriving at our borders, as well as those struggling to live within our borders. In response to
the increased numbers of people around the world who are being forced to leave their home countries,
and the simultaneous increase in punitve enforcement in many receiving countries, we afrm the
following principles to guide and inspire our eforts to respond:

Compassionate Response:
We care deeply about refugee children, families and all migrants,
and we urge our countries to have open arms to protect them and preserve their human
dignity. We reject detenton of migrants as a violaton of human rights and dignity.

Due Process:
We advocate for fair and tmely legal proceedings,
competent legal
and due process for children, asylum seekers, and all migrants.

Family Unity:
We uphold and respect the unit
y of families as a basic human right.

Restoratve Justce:
We desire revitalizaton and healing of our borderlands, not militarizaton.
The only long-term soluton is a holistc approach that prioritzes safety and opportunity for
migrants and addresses root causes.

Civil Initatve:
As long as our governments are not adequately addressing these huma
crises, citzens have the right and responsibility to respond with an approach that follows the
e to provide sanctuary when needed and, above all, to love our neighbours.
Based on these principles, we covenant with one another to work together for just and humane
response to all migrants both at our borders and within our countries. We call on our governme
nts, and

the governments of all countries receiving migrants in response to the current and ongoing
internatonal humanitarian and refugee crisis
to embrace these principles.
Individual Signers:

Hanns Thomä, Asyl in der Kirche (Asylum in Church), Berlin, Germany,

Rev. John Fyfe, No More Deaths, Arizona,

Rick Uford-Chase, co-moderator, rresbyterian reace Fellowship,

Rev. Dr. Robert L. Brashear, rastor, West rark rresbyterian Church,

Susan Smith, Community of Living Traditons at Stony roint Center, Muslim reace Fellowship,

Ulrich Sonn, Internatonaler Versoehnungsbund-Deutscher Zweig, Internatonal Fellowship of
ReconciliatonnGerman Branch,
Organizatonal Endorsers:

Asylum in Church, Germany

No More Deaths, Arizona

Community of Living Traditons

rresbyterian Church USA
To endorse these principles as an individual or an organizaton, please email one of the above signers.
Online interface coming soon! 

Fortress Europe and USA: Migration and Justice


Fortress Europe and USA

On Tuesday, November 22nd, we gathered at Heilege-Kreuz Kirche for an evening devoted to just migration, "Festung: Europa und USA" (Fortress Europe and USA) (. The main concern of the evening was to develop broader support for a joint statement on the issue developed by a work group from Germany and the United States which has since been officially approved by the Presbyterian Church (USA) meeting in Portland, Oregon in 2016.  We are specifically now seeking the approval of the Evangelical Synod of Berlin-Brandenberg.  The evening was intended intended to not only give background on the statement but to ring an update to the current situation. 

The panel
The panel
included Juergen Quandt, former Pastor of Heilege-Kreuz Kirche;
Juergen Quandt
Ute Gniewoss, current Heilege-Kreuz Kirche; Ulrike Trautwein, Vice Bishop of the  Synod of Berlin-Brandenberg; Asyl worker Bernard Fricke and H-P Buschheur of Sea Eye and myself, Robert Brashear.  Uli Sonn of the Fellowship of Reconciliation of Reconciliation
Uli Sonn
also participated and the  event  was moderated by Hans Thomae, former staf responsible for Migration and Integration of the EKBO.

The evening began with welcomes and then a video from No Mas Muertos in Arizona, The Desert Walkers. (

The update was chilling. The once open and welcoming policy of Germany has changed radically. Asylum seekers are sent back to the first safe place of entry, but when that is a country lile Greece that automatically ships people  back, how can that be safe?  We saw photographs of Belarusian children turned away awaiting deportation that wee disturbingly reminiscent of photographs from the 1930's. We learned of countries flagrantly ignoring their EU agreed obligations and of the millions sent by the EU to Libya to stop people from coming north across the Mediterranean. Sea Eye showed us photos of the  ill equipped overburdened rafts used by people to cross the Mediterranean and  of their   efforts to provide just first level humanitarian assistance like life vests, technically forbidden to "pull people from the sea."  We also heard a moving story of an anti-immigration boat technician who got engaged and changed to being now  committed to  rescue. 

By the evening's end, The  Bishop had agreed to advocate to her Pastors to support the statement. Amy Dalton and Susan Smith representing the Community of Living Traditions of Stony Point, New York, quickly used their organizing skills to call together those who wanted to further the discussion and especially to share their experiences in multi faith organizing.  
A good night
Amy, Susan and Uli

Following is my presentation:

In my presentation, I want to share with you  something of the origins of the  statement  we are exploring this evening and also some uodate on the current  the current situation on the US-Mexico border, the place which has so much  inspired our work together.

The origins of our joint statement go back to a meeting of visiting New York City clergy with Church Asylum workers here at Heilege-
Kreuz Church.  As we heard the stories of how their work had begun in response to Palestinian  refugees fleeing the civil war in Lebanon, we noticed the similarities between that work and work going on at the same time (1980’s) on the Arizona-Mexico borders with Central American refugees. The response was that was the inspiration for the Church Asyl work in Berlin.

The idea quickly developed that bringing together asylum workers  from the US and Germany to share experiences could be helpful to both.   A grant was secured and it was arranged to bring the workers from Germany to the US for a visit with their colleagues and then to bring the US workers to Europe, especially places like Malta where “border” issues are so dramatically visible. The colleagues were able to see first hand the realities  of the situation on our borders and the similarities  of the life threatening  realities of the Sonoran desert and Mediterranean Sea. This was the beginning  of our work together. 
Robert Brashear and PC(USA) World Mission  rep Burhardt Paetzold

In 2015 with a new crisis reality globally of migrants and refugees, with more people in motion globally than any other time in history, (so well documented by AI Wei Wei’s ‘Human Flow”) we renewed our work together and the statement that resulted was passed unanimously by the Presbyterian Church (USA) in 2016. 

My first visit to the border was in the 1980’s when Salvadoran  and Guatemalan refugees were crossing the US border. Despite the fact that both countries were "killing fields,"the US  government refused to recognize  them as refugees and the Sanctuary movement was born. I visited with refugees in a Mexican prision in Laredo and in an amazing coincidence met a man I had first met years earlier in a prison in El Salvador. The Sanctuary movement had begun when my friend John Fife simply answered,. At the door was a Salvadoran refugee. Sanctuary was offered and a movement begun..Soon a network of over 100 churches was created to help transport and protect refugees. He would be harassed by the government, even by agents infiltrating Bible Studies,  and was  ultimately convicted of violating immigration. laws and sentenced to 5 years probation. 

This original movement was the inspiration  for the’New Sanctuary” movement that has arisen in the US to provide shelter and security for refugees. Even whole cities like New York have declared themselves to be “Sanctuary Cities,” promising not to report persons without documentation who live and work in the city and use city services . Even in the face of President Trump's threat to  bock aid to the cities. 

Years later, I would  return to see the work of my friends along the border. I would see the imposing wall, so reminiscent of  the wall of separation between Israel and Palestine, that cuts through the city of Laredo. The towers on the US side with bright lights that shine down into Mexican homes. The raked sand on the US side to detect footprints. On the Mexican side, the US factories  and manufacturing facilities built there under provisions of the North American Free Trade (NAFTA) agreement, drawing people north, and the cardboard and scrap wood "shanty" towns that spring up virtually overnight. The shelters and comedores (soup kitchens) set up for detainees. 

The US government  policy of forcing people to the most dangerous parts of the desert has deadly consequences. Since 1982, official Border Patrol statistics report 6915 corpses found on the Mexico-Arizona border. The Pima County Medical Examiner's office says that this is "under reporting" and in their office …among four in border counties ..alone reports since 2002, an average of 170 corpses a year. A hospital official in Tucson says the medical health situation is “equivalent to having a passenger plane crash jn Tucson every year..”

There is a courageous network of ngo’s engaged in humanitarian work along the border. 

Humane Borders , e.g., provides 550 gallon (c. 1990 liters)  water storage containers. Water jugs are marked and placed where they will be safe. They also provide much needed medical supplies to desperately underresourced health workers on the Mexican side of the border.

Samaritans visit  people who have been apprehended and sent to detention centers to make sure that their rights are protected and to help them contact family. 

The Kino Border Initiative has set up shelters for deportees on the Mexican side. 

No Mas Metros (No More Deaths) provides a network of voluntary humanitarian work from  providing water to mapping travel routes of migrants, now with over 4800 kilometers of trails mapped. Most important is the emergency medical tent near Arivaca, Arizona where medical professionals, students and retirees provide first level medical care for migrants. Their  life saving work has now been interfered with by the Trump adminstration.

After years of a “positive working relationship” with the Border Patrol, a change has taken place. The Border Patrol, after tracking four migrants by helicopter to the medical tent, sent a team of 30 agents to raid  the camp and arrest the migrants. The fear  now is that if the tent is no longer considered “safe,” migrants  will not come to the tent and more lives will be lost in a desert where temperatures can reach over 42’ c.

This reality has impact on US citizens as well. The current situation has turned towns like Arivaca, 11 miles from the border, into virtual police states. The government has created what the American Civil Liberties Union describes as a “100 mile constitution free zone”, i.e., within 161 kilometers  of the border, border patrols can function without regard to normal civil liberties, as if it were a port of entry. In Arivaca, e.g., residents must show i.ds to enter or leave the the town. Anyone fitting a definition of “reasonable suspicion” can be stopped and subjected to comprehensive search. And data shows that Hispanic citizens of Arivaca are 26 more times as likely to be stopped as whites. One resident has described it “like being a Palestinian trying to enter Israel from the West Bank.” In essence, The whole Town of Arvaca has been deemed “suspicious.

The human cost is tragic. In Buenos Aires, I met a mother of two who had lived  in New Jersey for 22 years who had returned to Argentina for a medical procedure. Her attempt  to leave from Buenos Aires had been blocked so she travelled 8900 k to the US-Mexcio border and was stopped by US officials and sent back to Buenos Aires where she had not lived in decades and had no family. A church  is now providing her shelter and trying to find a way to help her quest to  return her children.

As one of his first acts, President Trump pardoned Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio who had been convicted  of ignoring court orders and enforcing a policy of detaining Hispanics “on suspicion” in what the court descorbed as “racist and illegal.” And what our  president described as “heroic.”

Walls will not stop migrants. A sign I saw in Hamburg read ‘If you don’t like migrants, stop creating them.” Our South American colleagues in refugee and migrant work are  very clear that it is the global policies of the US and Western Europe that create migrants and our refusal to welcome them is dishonest and immoral.

For those of us who are inspired by our faith, the Bible is clear from the Old Testament on..the stranger at our gate is to be treated as one of us. From the book of Exodus, Exodus 23:9 
“You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt" to Hebrews, 13:1-2 
Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.  The message is the same. 

This statement is a step in that direction. Let is work together for more just migration policies world wide.

And finally, here is the text of the joint statement:

From the borders of Europe to the USA: 
principles of sanctuary in response to the global escalation of displacement
June 2016

We, religious leaders and humanitarian groups from the European Union and the United States, who have practiced migrant and refugee hospitality for decades, express our deep concern for the well-being of the refugee children, families and all migrants currently arriving at the borders of Europe and the United States, as well as those struggling to live within our borders. In response to the increased numbers of people around the world who are being forced to leave their home countries, and the simultaneous increase in punitive enforcement in many receiving countries, our communities are working hard to support those in need with basic survival aid. But what is needed goes far beyond aid. What we desire is justice based on a recognition of the fundamental unity and interdependence of the human family.

Both in Europe and in the southern United States, the root causes of these migration trends include the economic and political priorities of the Global North. The wars, economic upheaval, and climate disasters befalling peoples of the Global South are more often than not driven by decisions and policies set in motion by the wealthiest nations in the world. As residents of these wealthy nations, our efforts to aid these migrants are carried out in recognition of this reality — in recognition of our role in their suffering — and in service of the “web of interdependence” which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of. We know that our ability to live truly dignified lives is bound up in their ability to do the same.

In an ideal situation, it is the responsibility of our governments to respond to these needs — and some governmental response has indeed taken place. The recent attention on the plight of refugee children and families arriving at the borders of Europe and the Mediterranean has spurred interest and compassion across the world. This spotlight on the European refugee crisis is similar to that of the Central American refugee crisis that received attention in the summer of 2014. Unfortunately, when the immediate flurry of attention wanes, we have seen how policymakers use such crises to promote fear-based strategies to detain and deter migrants, and to further the militarization of our border regions. At the grassroots, this is a tragedy. At the grassroots, we need living compassion much longer than the press interest lasts. These transit and migration points into Europe and the US have been, and undoubtedly will continue to be, protracted humanitarian crises as long as the strategy of deterrence prevails with a border enforcement-only approach. We yearn for a new, restorative and compassionate response to these global humanitarian crises of mass displacement — and it is toward this vision that we continue to act on a day-to-day basis.

We are clergy, academics and leaders of faith-based organizations who have worked in Europe and the United States to protect refugee children, families and all migrants, and to defend their human rights. We have been in relationship with one another for three decades since declaring sanctuary for refugees threatened with deportation from the U.S. and Germany. We have exchanged delegations to witness the work being done by faith-based organizations on the Southwest border of the U.S. and in Malta, Germany and Italy. Now we join together because of the common crises of alarmingly increased numbers of people being forced by war and economic upheaval to flee the Middle East and Africa, and the equally alarming increased numbers of people fleeing drug wars, poverty, and gang violence in Central America and Mexico. We join in solidarity with these migrants and with one another in faith, to uphold the human rights of all and the mandates of our faiths.

The following principles (further elaborated below) unite and embolden us to work together toward these ends at the borders of the US and Europe:
Compassionate Response: We care deeply about these refugee children, families and all migrants, and we urge our countries to have open arms to protect them and preserve their human dignity. We reject detention of migrants as a violation of human rights and dignity.
Due Process: We advocate for fair and timely legal proceedings, competent legal representation, and due process for children, asylum seekers, and all migrants.
Family Unity: We uphold and respect the unity of families as a basic human right.
Restorative Justice: We desire revitalization and healing of our borderlands, not militarization. The only long-term solution is a holistic approach that prioritizes safety and opportunity for these migrants and addresses root causes.
Civil Initiative: As long as our governments are not adequately addressing these humanitarian crises, citizens have the right and responsibility to respond with an approach that follows the mandate to provide sanctuary when needed and, above all, to love our neighbours. 

Based on these principles, we covenant with one another to work together for just and humane response to all migrants both at our borders and within our countries.

We ask our allies and supporters across Europe, the United States, and beyond to join us in this covenant, and in insisting that the above policies and principles serve as the basis for all countries receiving migrants in response to the current and ongoing international humanitarian and refugee crisis.

Church in Asylum, Germany
No More Deaths, Arizona 


What these principles mean to us:

Compassionate Response: We care deeply about these refugee children, families and all migrants, and we urge our countries to have open arms to protect them and preserve their human dignity. We reject detention of migrants as a violation of human rights and dignity. Entering a country without documentation is not a crime if a refugee asks for asylum — the seeking of asylum should not be criminalized, and refugees should never be detained in prison-like conditions. In the US we oppose the proliferation of immigration detention centers maintained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and private prison corporations to hold captive immigrant men, women, and children. These detention centers are filled through national legislation mandating that 34,000 detention beds be filled at all times. This legislation creates demand for the policing and criminalization of immigrants for corporate profit.  The results are devastating as detained individuals are often held far from family and face frequent transfers, impossibly high bonds, a lack of legal resources, and deportation. We are especially concerned by the re-opening of family detention centres, proven to be harmful to the well-being of children and families, and we urge collaboration with community-based centres for shelter. In Europe, some refugees have to stay in detention camps (for example Malta, Poland, Hungary), and others can live in refugee-houses or private homes. The rising numbers of refugees in more and more countries in Europe tend to move to a more restrictive policy against refugees, which leaves us very concerned. Flight is not a crime; refugees should not be detained. This principle stems from the belief that every person who arrives at the borders of Europe and the US has unique and sacred dignity, which is not bestowed by governments or by laws or based upon their wealth or where they or their parents happen to be born.

Due Process: We advocate for fair and timely legal proceedings, competent legal representation, and due process for children, asylum seekers, and all migrants. 
Since the outpouring of support for the Central American and Mexican minors who arrived at the US–Mexico border in the summer of 2013, US Department of Homeland Security has introduced practices designed to expedite mass deportations that offend fundamental principles of due process and endanger mothers and children fleeing extreme violence, according to the CARA Project and Human Rights First. Violations of due process and unreasonable delays in legal proceedings are also rampant in ICE and privately run detention centers throughout the United States. In Europe more and more countries are defined as “sichere Herkunftsländer (ie. safe countries) — including Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Albania, Mazedonia — which means that refugees from there have the most restricted means to apply elsewhere for asylum and almost no chance for acceptance. In Germany there are discussions at the moment to declare Afghanistan a “safe country” — though currently 50% of all Afghani applicants to Germany are accepted for asylum under the Geneva Conventions — because the German government asserts that in some regions of Afghanistan, like Kundus, people are able to live peacefully. This is also happening with several countries in North Africa. In the US, we are also concerned with the due process of enforcement mechanisms such as the criminal prosecutions carried out by Operation Streamline. In Europe, more and more countries are implementing the policy of closing borders, even though it is arguably against EU policy. The EU Commission should challenge those countries, but because it is not seen as a “normal' situation, and because of the prevailing 'culture of intolerance' such actions are condoned. With the trauma that many of the migrants carry and their confusion about the immigration system, they should not have to defend themselves against a system stacked against them. We insist that the principles of due process and legal representation be upheld for these refugee families. We believe the justice system and the immigration system should not be used to criminalize or punish people who have had to migrate to feed, protect or re-join their families, or be used to expedite their removal.

Family Unity: We uphold and respect the unity of families as a basic human right. Many of the children and other migrants arriving at our borders, whether or not they have asylum or protection claims, are trying to unite with their parents or family members. We support this process for traditional nuclear families as well as non-traditional family units. In the US, we oppose the record number of deportations under the Obama Administration, and in Europe we are concerned about the practice of granting humanitarian status, a lower status which does not come with the right to family reunification. We oppose excessive time restrictions on reunification, and practices that link this right to costly monetary fees. We call for immigration policies that promote family unity and prioritize reunification. When families are travelling together, everything must be done to keep them together. We believe people have the right to migrate to sustain their lives and the lives of their families and that they should not have to choose between supporting their family and being with their family.

Restorative Justice: We desire revitalization and healing of our borderlands, not militarization. The residents, indigenous peoples, historical sites and wildlife of our borderlands feel the heavy impact of the migrations funnelled through them and the concentrated enforcement apparatus. We desire healing for all these communities and eco-systems. The plight of these vulnerable should not be used as an excuse to further promote fear of migrants and to militarize our borders. We believe that respect for basic human dignity, human and civil rights, as well as the restoration of environmental protections of public lands, must be prioritized. To achieve this, we must pursue more effective international cooperation. In Europe, the so-called “Dublin System” places the heaviest burden on the countries at the southern borders of Europe. In the southern US, it is the US-Mexico border that bears the burden of the migration from many Central American countries. We envision a system where every country is sharing equal responsibility, regardless of their proximity to the border. We suggest that refugees be registered near the countries from which they have to flee, and then be allowed to enter countries which will process their applications through safe corridors. Countries can decide about the number of refugees they will accept through this system. In Europe, those who are given a refugee status should be allowed to move freely within the EU and to choose the country in which they want to live. In the US, this vision implies cooperation between Canada, the US and Mexico. Refugees must take precedence — this will prevent family separation and deaths. The only long-term solution is a holistic approach that prioritizes safety and opportunity for these migrants and addresses root causes. 

Civil Initiative: As long as our governments are not adequately addressing these humanitarian crises, citizens have the right and responsibility to respond with an approach that follows the mandate to provide sanctuary when needed and, above all, to love our neighbours. While the specific ways we extend support will vary, we are united in our commitment to respond. We seek to understand and educate others on the root causes of migration. We mourn with the families whose loved ones have perished in the Arizona desert and Mediterranean sea or other land borders. We recognize that a border-enforcement approach to the refugee children and families and the ongoing humanitarian crises will lead to more deaths, violence, human rights abuses and human trafficking already faced by vulnerable migrant populations. We urge the creation of transparent independent oversight groups to review customs and immigration officers’ practices and investigate allegations of abuse. We hold the belief that building just relationships with our neighbours should guide our efforts as a community to respond.