Issues around immigration are frequently in the news these days, and how to be in community with our immigrant neighbors was the theme of the New England Conference United Methodist Women’s 2019 Annual Meeting.
UWM members from across New England gathered at First UMC in Gilford, NH, on Oct. 26, 2019 for worship and fellowship as well as to elect officers and honor some of their own.
Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar brought greetings to the UMW saying, “We need the voice of the UMW - particularly in our nation where there’s racism and hatred toward immigrants.”
Bishop Devadhar quoted the UMW’s own statement: “United Methodist Women equips women and girls around the world to be leaders in communities, agencies, governments, and churches.”
“You said it, not me; ‘to equip women and girls,’” the bishop said. “We need to tell them our story. We need to excite them.”
He encouraged members to identify future leaders around them and say, “I see future leadership in you. Can I take you to the UMW?”
He also reminded them that every pastor is a member of the UMW; he urged them to invite their pastors to the next year’s Annual Meeting, which will be Oct. 24, 2020.
“Equipping the saints is our ministry,” the bishop said. “And that has to take place … We need you. We need your passion for justice in such a time as this.”
Justice was the topic for the day’s two featured speakers, who shared stories about those who are facing increasingly steep challenges in seeking to immigrate to or find asylum in United States. They also talked about what we as individuals and congregations can do to help.
During the morning session, members heard from Marge Roberson, a retired teacher, who volunteers with Metrowest Immigrant Solidarity Network
in Framingham, MA.
Roberson told stories of some people she’s encountered in her work, which she said illustrate what is happening in the current climate.
She told the following story:
A man from El Salvador lived in this country for some 30 years. He had a job in a deli and was well-liked in the community. He was required to check in periodically with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). For many years, these visits were routine, but three years ago, he was told to report back in 30 days to be deported. He’s now been back in El Salvador for three years. His wife and children remain here.
“To tell someone they’re OK for 30 years, then say ‘we don’t want you anymore,’ is the biggest broken promise,” Roberson said.
Roberson also spoke about a woman in Colorado who reached out to Metrowest when her six-year-old daughter was taken from her and put in detention. The woman was a police officer in her home country fighting against the gangs. She had real fear about returning there and sought asylum. Her daughter marked her 7th
birthday during her 55-day detention, which left her traumatized. But mother and daughter have been reunited and have moved into their new apartment.
“It’s even worse than what you’re hearing,” Roberson said of the current situation for immigrants.
She provided some ways to help support our immigrant neighbors:
- Become educated about immigration
- Speak up and/or write letters to the editor to help change the narrative about immigrants
- Volunteer and donate to groups supporting immigrants/asylum seekers
- Contact elected officials to
- Share your views on any proposed legislation
- Discourage private prisons
- Increase transparency around asylum seeking and detention
- Insist asylum seekers be given a hearing in a reasonable time
In the afternoon, Rev. Gary Richards, president of the board of New England Justice For Our Neighbors
, talked about the work this United Methodist ministry is doing here in New England.
JFON provides free, quality legal assistance to low-income immigrants seeking to adjust their status. NE JFON has three clinics across Massachusetts and will shortly open a new clinic in Worcester.
“[NE JFON] is a way to be in relationship with our immigrant neighbors and provide technical legal assistance to transform lives,” he said.
Rev. Richards spoke about the origins of JFON; it was founded by UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief), which saw plight of refugees, and identified some of their needs.
“Immigrants truly need to have allies; they truly need to have sources of material aid, as well as a place to develop relationships with the community,” he said. “It was also clear they would need legal assistance; adjusting status is complex and costly.”
Rev. Richards also shared some written stories of some of NE JFON’s clients including this one:
“M. is a 16-year-old from Guatemala who is in removal proceedings. Gang members threatened to rape and then kill her. She was so afraid, she quit school to avoid going out of the house. She became so anxious she needed medication. She begged her parents to send her to the USA, and they used the money they had saved for her education to pay for her trip. Lawyers at the border filed an asylum petition for her. We intend to file a Complaint for Dependency and an SU petition. We already petitioned for a work authorization, which was granted. She cried when she was told that she had been granted the work authorization because she was very anxious about ICE raids.”
Read more stories here
Rev. Richards urged UMW members to bring the story of JFON back to their churches.
“We know the power of access to justice,” he said. “We know these cases will transform lives – open opportunities for education, employment and freedom to travel.”
During the business meeting, members re-elected the following officers:
Betty Shippee, president
Sherry Culver, vice president
Nancy Merrick, treasurer
Pan Mavrelion, secretary
Also elected was Marie MacDougall, who will fill the vacant position of Nominations Chairperson. MacDougall had been serving on the Program Committee.
Members also nominated one candidate and one alternate to be considered for the Board of Directors of the Women’s Division and the Program Advisory Group (PAG) to the board.
Members agreed to submit Roberta Bragan as nominee and Arlene Mackie as alternate to the board and Pat Neal as nominee and Sara Lutz-Blackburn as alternate for the PAG.
Five UMW members were honored with Special Mission Recognition pins:
Sandra Grady, Mid-Maine
Lorraine Kronberg, Central MA
Yong Lee, Korean UMW
Patricia Neal, New Hampshire
Janet Powell, Vermont
The offering for the day was received for mission giving through the national United Methodist Women. The Annual Ingathering was collected for a ministry of the host church to support CornerBridge
, a wellness and recovery center for those who have mental illness.
The next UMW Annual Meeting will be Oct. 24, 2020. The Northeastern Jurisdiction UMW’s quadrennial event will be April 24-26, 2020 in Baltimore. Learn more and register at https://nejumw.org