When Bishop Gonia visited our congregation last year, he led an activity called “Claiming Our Gifts.” This activity was designed to open our eyes to the many unique gifts that we can celebrate as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Some of them were theological in nature: grace; paradox; the theology of the cross. Some of them were practical: ministry of all the baptized; word and sacrament as means of grace. Still others celebrated our unique church structure as “Glocal,” ecumenical, and interdependent. The last grouping celebrated the ELCA’s legacy, our history. In this category, Bishop Gonia placed the Lutheran Reformation – a gift of the church that continues more than 500 years later – and the multitude of church mergers that have happened over the years to bring about the ELCA as it is today. Lastly, Bishop Gonia referred to our legacy as being a church shaped by an immigrant history.
Those who participated in my Bible study on Lutheranism a few years ago will remember the way that Lutheranism in America grew primarily from immigrants primarily from Germany, Denmark, and the Scandinavian countries. These people came seeking opportunity and freedom from religious persecution. When they came to their new country, they found (or founded) a church that welcomed them, provided them with a community, and nourished them with God’s grace.
That work continues today through an organization called Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS). This organization has been in existence for 80 years, working alongside other organizations like Catholic Social Services and the U.S. Federal government to provide help for those in the often-complicated immigration or refugee process. This is one of the few ministries with which the ELCA still finds a welcome partner with the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod! To me, that just highlights this organization’s amazing role in bringing people together for an important and needed ministry.
Immigration has been a hot topic in the news lately, and usually not in a good way. Illegal immigration is, indeed, a problem for our country that needs to be addressed. Meanwhile, there are still people all around the world who are seeking to find opportunity, flee persecution, and avoid starvation, violence and war. Nearly 71 million people were forcibly displaced from their homes in 2018. That’s a staggering number! So, for those who are looking to enter the asylum process as a refugee, or for those who are looking to enter our immigration system, LIRS still is there offering their help. But while the need increases around the world, the funds to provide such ministries dwindles.
You may recall that earlier this year, CtK received $46,000 as the settlement for the property easement sale. The Church Council decided to do a 10% tithe: 5% for Synod Benevolence and 5% to be decided by the Social Ministry team. Given the need, the Social Ministry Team at CtK has designated their portion of this “gift” ($2,300) to support this ministry in their work of supporting, walking alongside of, and providing assistance to those who are navigating our complicated immigration system. To be clear, this is a long-standing, reputable organization that seeks to help those who want to follow the asylum or immigration process in a legal way. At a time when the need for such organizations and ministries is sharply increasing, the social ministry team felt that this was a compassionate and just response.
If you have questions about LIRS, or if you’d like to talk about this contribution, please see me. I’d be happy to have a conversation with you about it.