BEST PRACTICE: “FAITH & HOUSING WEEKEND” I am helping with this county-wide effort to address the housing crisis in our area. Between 2010 and 2014, San Mateo County produced 2,100 new housing units and 54,600 jobs. It’s not hard to imagine the resulting decrease in affordable housing and increase in homelessness and other stressful conditions. “The Faith and Housing Weekend” was born of a recent Clergy Housing Summit. At the Summits clergy and county officials unite to understand the crisis and to target solutions for ultimately achieving “Homes for All.”
I am proud of area clergy representing many faiths who have gathered with prayer and intention at the Clergy Housing Summits and are planning collaborative efforts (in numbers there’s strength) that can be implemented by them and their synagogues, mosques and churches to better serve our community. This weekend – “Faith and Housing Weekend” – many of our faith organizations will host educational sessions to provide information to their congregations on the housing crisis, resources, the local ballot initiatives for November 8th, and the ways individually and together members can help resolve the shortage and affordability challenges.There will also be sermons, homilies, music, and prayer. Bravo!
I’ve posted this info because there are many communities around the world where people are homeless for a variety of reasons. This is “a best practice” and one that I suspect could be implemented pretty much anywhere.
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Given the current divisive atmosphere and mean narratives, I feel compelled some evenings to share information and inspiration on topics other than poetry, which support our shared ideals.
In a courageous and compassionate move two faith organizations in my neighborhood just announced that their congregations have voted by overwhelming majorities to give physical sanctuary to vulnerable neighbors, the kind of move that has growing support across the United States under the banner of The New Sanctuary Movement, a movement with historic roots in human sanctuary (as opposed to spiritual sanctuary) in England, 600 A.D. This latest revival is a renewal of the 80s Sanctuary Movement in the U.S.
In the 1980s faith organizations were responsible for transporting and sheltering some 500,000 escaping the violence in Central America. Hundreds of congregations sheltered refugees and moved them to the U.S. and Canada.
Why give sanctuary:
The Rev. Ben Meyers minister of the Unitarian Universalists of San Mateo states: “Our Unitarian Universalist principles call us to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of all people; to seek justice, equity, and compassion in human relations, and to create world community with peace, liberty and justice for all. We commit our values to action as we work with other people of faith and moral conscience congruent with these principles and this purpose. Deportation of our neighbors and the breaking up of immigrant families in our communities are among the most compelling social justice issues of our time. Standing together on the side of love, our faith communities can make a real difference.”
The Rev. Dr. G. Penny Nixon, senior minister of the Congregational Church of San Mateo says: “Each week we gather in our beautiful sanctuary to remember who we are as a people of faith who follow the teachings of Jesus. For us, providing refuge means opening that sanctuary as a “safe place” to those who are an integral part of our community, and providing a haven for families to stay together.” –The Rev. Dr. G. Penny Nixon, senior minister of the Congregational Church of San Mateo
I do not represent either of the churches featured here this evening nor speak for their ministers and congregations, but this story is compelling. I hope that by featuring their justice efforts other faith organizations that haven’t picked up the banner will do so. If your synagogue, church, temple or mosque is not in the process of becoming sanctuary, then please consider initiating that conversation. If you are the leader in a faith organization or a professional journalist who would like more information, contact the ministers at email@example.com or contact me via direct message on Facebook or firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll be happy to connect you.
As you might suspect, there was a reason for featuring Emma Lazarus and her poem, The New Colossus, as part of the American She-Poets series this a.m. … the reason being a reminder of our American ideals in the face an unreasonable ban, free-flowing hostilitities, and the fear vulnerable people have given the ramped-up deportation policies finding support and stride under the current Republican administration. Almost all immigrants to this country are refugees even if they are not formally declared so. Formally or informally they seek refuge from violence, poverty, joblessness, hunger and environmental degradation.
“Now ‘refugees’ are those of us who have been so unfortunate as to arrive in a new country without means and have to be helped by refugee committees …. We lost our home, which means the familiarity of daily life. We lost our occupation, which means the confidence that we are of some use in this world. We lost our language, which means the naturalness of reactions, the simplicity of gestures, the unaffected expression of feelings. . . . ” We Refugees, an essay by Hannah Arendt in the 1943 issue of Menorah
The lack of empathy and compassion for and the fear of and prejudice toward immigrants is not new in American history and, as better people than me have said, unless you are a Native American, you are an immigrant, no matter how far back your roots go in these United States. It is likely that your own progenitors felt the sting of prejudice, might have suffered greatly and even died at its hands.
Here I report on the programs and practices that are being implemented by our interfaith community with the help of a number of organizations including Faith In Action, which is integral to the design of a Rapid Response Program. My hope is that in reading this more people in our own community will become involved and that other communities that don’t have programs and collaborations will be inspired to create them.
The Peninsula Solidarity Network of clergy representing diverse faiths was originally initiated to discuss and address the shortage of housing and affordable rents throughout the San Francisco Peninsula and South Bay area and is now taking on another crisis: creating sanctuary andbuilding a Rapid Response Network to witness, accompany and advocate for immigrants facing deportation. On Wednesday, February 8th, it hosted a training by Faith In Action Bay Area. The training was on the Sanctuary Movement and The Rapid Response Network, a project of Faith In Action Bay Area, PICO and the Archdiocese of San Francisco in collaboration with Pangea Legal Services and California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance.
Please note:I do not speak for or represent the Peninsula Solidarity Network or its clergy and lay-leader members, Faith In Action or the Rapid Response Network, but I was a butterfly on the wall with the good fortune to listen in and report back to you. This is what I learned. Any mistakes or mistaken assumptions are my own. If you are clergy or a professional journalist interested in the Peninsula Solidarity Network, the Sanctuary Movement, and/or Rapid Response email email@example.com J.D.
While deportation is not a new problem, these efforts by the federal government are escalating and Faith In Action is working to bring our congregations together to foster the bigger scale of action and involvement that is necessary now . . . and we need everyone. Our job is to facilitate support among the races. Everyone has a role to play: diverse immigrant communities supporting one another and the greater community showing presence. Vulnerable ethnic and religious groups need special help and American citizens have responsibility to be present for victims and involved in this work.
Within the immigrant community congregations are the center for hope. Faith organizations can offer training to help families to defend themselves, to know their rights, and to get deportation defense through community campaigns, solidarity networks and for advocacy at local, state and federal levels.
Each city needs RAPID RESPONSE TEAMS of at least forty people. First responders verify raids, are moral and legal observers and connect families with legal services, social and economic services, advocacy and accompaniment services.
Victims of immigration raids can’t leave home or work to find sanctuary in a congregation. With rapid response, the congregation goes to the people.
In California, clergy and congregation members can also help by supporting the proposed California Values Act (SB 54) of California Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León. Here is the short link to info about SB 54: http://tinyurl.com/j6e6ayv
Donate to Faith In Action Bay Area, 1336 Arroyo Ave, San Carlos, CA 94070-3913 (510) 234-8983
OUR PENINSULA RESIDENTS ARE INVITED TO attend the Faith In Practicing Solidarity During Immigration Raids Training (Rapid Response Network: Witness, Accompany and Advocate) to be offered on February 12, 4 p.m. – 6 p.m. at the First Congregational Church, 225 Tilton Ave., San Mateo, CA (Parking on Catalpa). You will learn how to witness (be a legal observer), accompany (provide moral support) and advocate (prepare for opportunity to pass new protections). There will be a second training offered on February 28, 6:30 – 8:30pm, 2266 California St, San Francisco.
What follows is a short film (about 20 min.), which tells the history of immigration in the United States. If you are reading this feature from an email subscription, you’ll likely have to link through to watch the video.
Too many people are deported – or “returned” – many of them are long-term residents woven into the fabric of our communities and congregations, including our neighbors. Often this results in splitting up families with children who are U.S. citizens.
Time after time Congress has refused to address our broken immigration system. Donald Trump launched his campaign for president pledging to build a wall and deport immigrants. During his first two weeks in office he issued orders intended to begin implementing his vision for America. An order establishing a travel ban on Muslims from seven majority Muslim nations has had a chilling effect on nearly all foreign nationals living among us as friends, neighbors, classmates, coworkers or family in communities nationwide. Consequently, a New Sanctuary Movement is rapidly gaining momentum among people of faith and moral conscience.
Why get involved as a Faith Community?
Our shared religious ideals call us to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of all people; to seek justice, equity, and compassion in human relations, and to create world community with peace, liberty and justice for all. We commit our values to action as we work together to transform ourselves while creating congruence between our ideals and our actions. Deportation of our neighbors and the breaking up of immigrant families in our communities are among the most compelling social justice issues of our time. Our congregations can make a difference. We can get involved in the New Sanctuary Movement by taking the National Sanctuary Pledge and becoming a Sanctuary Congregation, joining hundreds of others from all faith traditions across the country
What does it mean to be a Sanctuary Congregation?
Principally, it means helping prevent deportation of persons facing an order of deportation, on a case-by-case basis, one at a time, in concert with their legal representation. Participation varies from joining Networks of Protection and Rapid Response teams; Advocating for due process and policies; Accompanying Immigrant families and youth for protection and providing a safe haven. This latter role means hosting or otherwise supporting a person in your facility and possibly their family too, while the person is engaged in legal proceedings intended to prevent them from being deported. We expect the duration of a person’s stay in Sanctuary would be from three weeks to three months. As part of growing coalitions of congregations you would not be doing this alone.
Is a house of worship a safe place?
Historically, churches, schools and hospitals have been classified as “sensitive locations” under the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Sensitive Locations Policy. ICE has not entered any of those venues to take custody of a person facing an order of deportation. However, we should be aware that this could change as the current administration implements its plans. [ICE officials can make entry with a warrant. / J.D.]
How are candidates for Sanctuary vetted?
As a Sanctuary Congregation, you will have a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with one or more not-for-profit organizations providing legal services for immigrants in or around your area. That organization, in concert with a person’s lawyer, will decide that the person would be the right candidate for Sanctuary: (1) ICE would not likely consider them a priority for deportation; (2) they are a good candidate for prosecutorial discretion, winning a stay of removal or an order of supervision or some other form of legal relief from deportation; and (3) they would satisfy any other requirements specified in our MOU. Where a candidate meets the requirements, the organization presents the case to the Sanctuary Congregations’ rabbi, minister or Iman and a “Vetting Team.”
What are the risks?
During the last forty years, no congregation has been prosecuted for allowing undocumented people to find shelter in their Church; no person associated with a Church Sanctuary Program has been convicted for offering Sanctuary; and no Church’s tax-exempt status has been affected. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “There comes a time when a moral man [sic] can’t obey a law which his conscience tells him is unjust. And the important thing is that when he does that he willingly accepts the penalty – because if he refuses to accept the penalty he becomes reckless, and he becomes an anarchist.”
It’s not poetry but it’s important. As we struggle to understand, to digest pending or potential changes with the new U.S. administration, to figure out what we can do to help insure stability and to ease the pain of others, those who nurture our spiritual lives are struggling with the same questions. Through interfaith collaboration clergy support one another, coming together in conversation, in protest and in solidarity as they stand in the love of our country, all people and the world.
On Wednesday, November 30, 2016, twenty-five clergy representing Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Unitarian Universalism and Christianity responded to a call to meet for a working lunch at the Congregational Church of San Mateo to discuss Leading in Difficult Times. I was a butterfly on the wall with the good fortune to listen in.
They discussed the same concerns and fears that you are writing about in your poems, essays and editorials: scapegoating, suppression of free speech, immigration policy that will split families and is creating anxiety among children, Islamophobia, empowerment, economic distress, women’s rights and violence by individuals or orchestrated violence in the community/country.
One rabbi pointed out, “The to-do list for the world … we never imagined so much would be pressing us with the same sense of urgency. How do you know what to do first? With all that needs to be done, how do we make sure no one is left behind and that we don’t take away the dignity of others in our process? … How do we juggle all the needs?”
“later that night i held an atlas in my lap ran my fingers across the whole world and whispered where does it hurt? it answered everywhere everywhere everywhere.” excerpt from “what they did yesterday afternoon” Warsan Shire
Just as we ponder how to support one another in our art and activism, our clergy explored the ways in which they can support one another in their roles as spiritual leaders.
Show up for each other and stand by the values we share.
Keep the spark alive. Hear the spark, the spiritual spark, hopefulness and joy.
Create a safe place to talk about personal journeys relative to the times.
Encourage one another in a clear sense of values and priorities … to act the way our traditions dictate and God wants. Stay grounded in a place of values and faith.
The heart has a need for practical things to do; we can echo the sorts of things other faith groups are doing so we can collaborate.
Love of all humankind and the value of nonviolence.
Dignity and worth of all people.
Hope that all places of worship can be a safe space for everyone.
The value of listening.
The value of acting to move through the whole project without stopping.
The value of not leaving people behind. Blessing and curses go together so where there is a curse there’s a blessing and we create the blessing.
The sanctity of speech.
Concern for the poor and disadvantaged.
“Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.” Franklin D. Roosevelt
After the clergy meeting I attended a similar discussion among the members of my own congregation. We broke out into groups to explore and agree on actions for a specific areas of concern: environment/climate change, racism and Islamophobia, women’s rights and immigration. I was in the group on immigration, where priorities are the school children now living in fear of being separated from parents or sent back to countries where their lives are at risk, the 65,000 undocumented youth graduating from high school each year and having conditional status in the States under The Dream Act*, and the brutality and aggression faced by illegal immigrants escaping violence in their countries of origin as they are rounded up for deportation by ICE officials. There is special interest in the Sanctuary Movement and making our church sanctuary. We are already a “Welcoming” community.
These have been among my activities as I took some time away from writing and poetry to think about what promises to be a different sort of world. We might have a long haul ahead of us and though . . .
The task [may not be ours] to complete, . . . neither are [we] free to desist from it. Rabbi Nachman
* These are children who are culturally American and bilingual with only a tenuous connection to their countries of origin.
Clerics interested in connecting with the Planning Team for the San Mateo clergy group featured here today and professional journalists interested in covering their activities, please contact the Planning Team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
These activities are what I think of as “Best Practices.” I share them here because they can be easily adopted by other communities. I would encourage those of you who are part of our The BeZine: 100,000 Poets for Change Facebook discussion page to share information and/or links to initiatives in your community that might interest others. Our poetry like our prayers must have legs. The Facebook discussion page is one I moderate along with colleagues: American-Israeli poet, Michael Dickel and Rev. Terri Stewart, Associate Pastor at Riverton Park United Methodist Church, Seattle, WA
“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something … and what I can do, by the grace of God, I will do.” after Edward Everett Hale by the Sisters of St. Joseph who were my teachers and role models
100,000 Poets for Change, (110TPC) cofounded by poets and publishers Michael Rothenberg and Terri Carrion of Big Bridge Press, the 2016 global event day was hosted by over 550 hundred communities world-wide and other events are being held all the time including monthly in Morocco. Under the banner of 100TPC come 100,000 Peacemakers (Terri Stewart, Beguine Again), 100,000 Drummers for Change, 100,000 Mimes for Change and so on.