St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven is approaching the three-year anniversary of its Latino ministry initiative. The church now has 15-20 people worshipping in Spanish at its 12:45 p.m. worship service every Sunday. The church has hired a half-time associate rector who came to them from Colombia. And the congregation has been active not only inviting unchurched Latinos to be a part of their church, but also in activities that support the migrant and immigrant communities in the Tri-Cities.
The changes in immigration policy over the past year, however, has pushed them to begin considering what else God is calling them to do in this area.
“Last year, there was a surprise I.C.E. raid in Holland, just a short drive from our own community here in Grand Haven,” said the Rev. Dr. Jared Cramer, rector of St. John’s. “It really hit home, shaking up both Anglo and Latino members of our church. We started asking what we should do with regard to these problems. For us, this is not theoretical. These are our friends and neighbors who are seeing their lives turned upside down and their families pulled apart.”
The Vestry of the parish created an Immigration & Sanctuary Team to begin discerning these questions. The team included people from diverse political views, everyone from those who would likely advocate full amnesty to those who were generally supportive of the current administration. After a year of study and prayer surrounding questions of immigration policy, Scripture, and the realities of the Sanctuary Church movement, the team presented a recommendation to the parish Vestry.
That recommendation stopped short of suggesting the parish become a Sanctuary Church that would house undocumented immigrants — primarily due to issues surrounding the building needs of that activity, along with the amount of people that would be needed to do that well. However, the team did recommend that the church adopt a Sanctuary Church statement that included a commitment to be a safe place for all to worship, regardless of immigration status, and that also committed to helping those struggling with immigration issues. It also included a commitment to continue to explore the possibility of providing physical sanctuary.
“The Vestry then decided to table the question,” Cramer said. “They believed we needed just a bit more time to study and pray before they could bring this question to the entire congregation.”
In February, after more prayer and discussion, the Vestry endorsed bringing the team recommendations to the entire parish for consideration and vote at a special parish meeting on April 22, Cramer said.
As a part of an internal process, the parish will hold two other special meetings in April.
The first meeting will be at 11:30 a.m. April 8, and is open to all members of the Tri-Cities community who would like to learn more about these questions. They will be screening a presentation that was offered at Grand Valley State University in January. Professor Ruth Gomberg-Muñoz, associate professor of the Anthropology Department at Loyola University, will help answer the commonly asked question regarding undocumented immigrants: "Why didn't they get legal?" She'll explore the current laws surrounding immigration in our country, especially how those laws impact families of mixed immigration status. St. John’s is screening this presentation with the permission and support of Dr. David Stark and the Latin American & Latina/o Studies program at GVSU.
“Our hope is that other members of the Tri-Cities who are curious about this question — Why don’t undocumented immigrants achieve legal status? — will come and learn more about this situation as it currently exists in our country,” Cramer said. “These are difficult questions and often there is a lot of misunderstanding of what is and is not possible in current immigration law. This presentation is a time to gather and learn.”
At 11:30 a.m. Sunday, April 15, members of the parish will gather once more for a time of conversation specifically on the recommendations of the Immigration and Sanctuary Team.
“In a formal meeting, with Robert’s Rules and parliamentary procedure in effect, it can sometimes be difficult to have an open, loving and Christian conversation,” Cramer said. “Our hope by having less structured time of conversation the week before the meeting is that common questions can be asked and members can talk to one another about their own sense of God’s call with these questions.”
Finally, at 11:30 a.m. Sunday, April 22, the Special Parish Meeting will convene during which the congregation will make a decision on what to do with the Immigration & Sanctuary Team recommendations. According to the bylaws of the parish, the Special Parish Meeting will be open to only active and participating members of the parish.
“Honestly, I’m not sure what the congregation will decide with all these questions, but there is passion in wrestling with them,” Cramer said. “And having seen the members of our church — members who often have very different views on these questions — come together to discuss and learn, it has been moving. I believe God is in this and that the Holy Spirit will guide us into the path that best follows the teachings of Christ.”
For more information, call the parish office at 616-842-6260 or visit St. John’s Episcopal Church’s website at www.stjohnsepiscopal.com.