As United Methodist congregations prepared for the coming of the Christ child on the first Sunday of Advent, many also recognized the importance of welcoming the stranger.
Churches around the world celebrated Global Migration Sunday on Dec. 3 with a day of prayer and a special offering to aid migrants and refugees.
Today, more than 65 million people worldwide have been forcibly displaced from their homes due to conflict, persecution or natural disasters. Over 22 million of those are refugees.
“Our church needs to continue (to provide) ways we are the home for strangers and we are the friend for the migrant, and we need to open up the landscape so that the church can be outfacing, engaging with those in such a critical situation today,” said Wisconsin Area Bishop Hee-Soo Jung, president of United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.
While it’s too soon to know full participation numbers, Jung estimates that at least half of the churches in his episcopal area, roughly 250, participated on Global Migration Sunday through liturgy sharing, prayers or a special offering.
Rev. Judith Reedy celebrated Global Migration Sunday with her congregation at Grace United Methodist Church in Dallas. The church has a communion rail offering every week and Reedy rearranged the schedule to include Global Migration Sunday.
The church also invited fellow United Methodist Bill Holston to speak. Holston, a lawyer, runs the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas, a nonprofit that provides legal support to refugees and immigrants seeking asylum in the U.S.
“We collected $250 for that one Sunday at our communion rail. The congregation responded overwhelmingly in a positive manner. Almost every single person came through the receiving line to shake hands with our guest speaker,” Reedy said.
Rev. Russell Pierce, executive director of mission engagement at Global Ministries, said working with migrants and refugees is a key mission for the United Methodist Committee on Relief, the humanitarian relief and development arm of The United Methodist Church. He said UMCOR and Global Ministries are committed to continuing that work and finding new ways to collaborate with organizations around the world on the issue.
For churches that were unable to celebrate Global Migration Sunday on Dec. 3, Pierce said it’s not too late to take up a special offering and raise awareness about the crisis.
Jung said it’s crucial that churches continue to support migrants beyond Global Migration Sunday and to celebrate the gifts they have to offer.
“It’s so critical, because there’s a lot of reverse mission happening from this migration community,” he said. “They’re the ones who are giving real mission here, (they’re) not just recipients (of help from the) U.S. toward them, but now they are among us and they are a great witness. That’s why the church needs to really think this migration matter is our matter, a common matter.”
Pierce agrees. He said it’s not only important for United Methodists to understand the issue but also to recognize that churches are being revitalized by engaging with migrants, refugees and immigrants in their own communities. The church needs to continue to lift up those stories, he said.
“We’ll raise aware-ness, we’ll continue to work on the migration ministries, but especially raise up that this is a way that churches are being revitalized.”