Morning includes interactive plenary on ‘Welcoming the Stranger’
March 21, 2018
Speaking to attendees at the 2018 gathering of the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators (APCE), the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), assumed the role of cheerleader for educators.
This year’s convention of church education practitioners from the PC(USA), the Reformed Church in America, the Presbyterian Church in Canada, the Moravian Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church in North America had a theme of “Deep & Wide: Boundless Hospitality.”
Nelson’s sermon, based on Luke 10:25–37 — known as the Parable of the Good Samaritan — took him to a “place I was not intending … it is subversive teaching.”
“Teaching is the most important work we in the PC(USA) can do in these times,” he said. “Teaching the gospel is life-saving work. Teaching gives life and offers life to those who would otherwise dwell in ignorance to the God of our salvation.”
Recalling his own history, Nelson said, “All my education post-high school has been in Presbyterian institutions. If we are to receive what is required in greater measure, it will require subversive Christian education. To teach us to love our God, and our neighbor as yourself.
“Christian education is essential. Don’t let any session tell you you’re not worth your weight in salt. Don’t let any pastor tell you they can do it without you,” he encouraged. “If we don’t learn to teach again as we have done historically, and as we are known for — theology, education and how-to — if we don’t begin to learn how to do this today, we will probably be no more than a remnant going into the middle of the 21st century.”
Saying the denomination must teach what it means to love the Lord God with all our hearts, souls and minds, Nelson said, “I want to make sure by the time you leave here, this Stated Clerk has given you a holy pep rally.
“You are needed. You are needed,” he emphasized. “You are needed to help make a difference in the transformation in this present age.”
Later that winter morning, an interactive plenary took attendees on an immigration journey.
The hourlong exercise called “Welcoming the Stranger” asked participants to introduce and “root themselves” via a short meditation in their sense of home. Juxtaposed with these feelings of belonging, Alison Harrington, pastor of Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Arizona, asked the group to leave that space and “imagine that you will never return to this place again.”
Employing examples of migrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, and video clips from the PC(USA)-produced film The Genesis of Exodus, participants received a card with a name and personal description and were asked to imagine where people from these countries “go to feel safe, in their home.”
Examining the 2,500-mile journey migrants from these countries make to arrive at the U.S. border, attendees participated in an exercise that placed them in the journey, and with the threats of violence, sexual abuse, financial exploitation and loss, the workshop gave examples of those deported, killed or mistreated during their trek.
Asylum-seekers in the exercise identified gang or family violence, police extortion and economic exploitation as reasons for their migration, looking to escape these circumstances to find opportunity in the U.S.
Harrington quoted statistics from 2016, saying that in the U.S., 52 percent of asylum-seekers with an attorney in the U.S. received asylum while only 10 percent of those without an attorney received asylum. Human rights advocates estimate that at least 70,000 Central Americans have died over the past 10 years on their migration journey to the U.S.
“In the midst of all that fear that you experience [in the U.S.], at least here, you are safer than home. … There has to be a land where we are welcome,” Harrington said of the biblical imperative to provide sanctuary for those seeking a new home.
Teresa Waggener, coordinator in the Office of Immigration Issues at the PC(USA), cited current issues and the efforts of the PC(USA) Office of Immigration Issues and Presbyterians for Just Immigration. “There is a place for each of you to show an array of opportunities to show hospitality,” she said.
Gregg Brekke, Reporter, Presbyterian News Service
Today’s Focus: Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II preaches at the APCE Conference
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PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
What we know not, teach us. What we are not, make us. What we have not, give us. Amen.