Nearly a decade ago, as skyrocketing immigration and the effects of a broken U.S. immigration system brought new challenges to congregations, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s 216th General Assembly (2004) authorized the creation of an Office of Immigration Issues. This led to the formation, a few years later, of an advocacy coalition called Presbyterians for Just Immigration.
Now, steps are underway to take these efforts to the next level.
Two upcoming training sessions will equip even more Presbyterians to reach out to newcomers in their communities and to join the movement for the full recognition of immigrants’ rights:
- February 21–23, at Stony Point Conference Center, north of New York City
- March 6–9, at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary
The training is intended to help solidify a network of Presbyterians across the country who are committed to working for immigration reform and who are equipped to address the needs of immigrants in their communities, says Teresa Waggener, coordinator of immigration issues for the PC(USA).
The training sessions are being organized by the Office of Immigration Issues and the steering committee of Presbyterians for Just Immigration.
“Our office wants to be a resource and an inspiration to groups working around immigration issues,” Waggener says. “I am hopeful that these trainings will connect the office with established groups as well as encourage the creation of new groups with a heart for working around immigration issues within our faith communities.”
Waggener also hopes that the training sessions will equip Presbyterians who are immigrants with the tools to navigate through the federal immigration process. She expects that the training “will introduce Presbyterians to others in their region who are doing similar kinds of work.” Another result, she says, would be that “we can hold each other in prayer.”
A lot of Presbyterians are doing good work related to immigration, Waggener says, “but there needs to be a more coordinated effort.” The immigration network will connect congregations that are planning advocacy efforts, such as marches or rallies. It will also help Presbyterians share ideas for supporting immigrants in their communities.
For example, many congregations are offering English language classes, Waggener says. Others have turned some of the land around their church buildings into community gardens, where immigrants can grow foods native to their cultures. Still others have opened computer labs where newcomers to the United States can come to apply for jobs and communicate with family members back home.
“There are a myriad of ways that Presbyterians have stepped up and offered their support for immigrants,” she says. “We’re hoping to be supportive of all these different ways.”
The training sessions will include:
- Education about U.S. immigration policy
- History of Presbyterian response to immigration and General Assembly policy
- Biblical reflection, including designing more inclusive worship services
- Community organizing skills, including developing a message, recruiting volunteers, advocacy, and team building
Both training sessions are free, but participants are expected to pay for their own airfare/travel costs. Food and lodging at Stony Point also are free, and those costs are expected to be minimal at Austin Seminary ($120 or so). People interested in attending the training may wish to contact their congregations and/or presbyteries about possible financial support.
Interested participants should contact Piper Madison, a member of the Presbyterians for Just Immigration steering committee, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Emails should include the subject line “PFJI Training” and should briefly address the following:
- Your call to work on issues related to immigration
- Activities you are currently involved with concerning immigration or other social justice issues
- How you intend to carry the ideas and information from the training to your local community
For more information, contact Teresa Waggener at email@example.com or 502-569-5372.