United Methodists were among those gathered for prayer at the Greater Lansing Islamic Society on Feb. 20.
Senior Editor-Writer, Michigan Area
EAST LANSING – A diverse crowd of 300 persons gathered outdoors at the Greater Lansing Islamic Society on February 20, 2017. They represented many faiths, languages and origins but they came together as one on the date marked as both President’s Day and the United Nations Day for Social Justice.
Their purpose was to celebrate their unity, to share their religious roots, to affirm their care for immigrants and refugees and to pray for the nation and President Donald Trump.
United Methodists were present and participating in leadership. The afternoon was grounded in scripture—Judaic, Christian, and Islamic– on welcoming the refugee. Rabbi Amy Bigman, Congregation Shaarey Zedek, read from the Hebrew Bible, Leviticus (22:21 and 19:18). Bishop David Bard, Michigan Area United Methodist Church, shared from the Gospels, Luke (6:20-21, 36). Islamic Society host, Imam Sohail Chaudhry, read Chapter 107 of the Quran.
Reflections were shared including a report from AFAR (the All Faith Alliance for Refugees). Made up of Lansing-area organizations and congregations, AFAR aims to educate, advocate and coordinate services to the refugee community. Its chair is the Rev. Rob Cook, pastor of Mt. Hope United Methodist Church.
Judi Harris, Refugees Services Director for St. Vincent Catholic Charities, spoke to the current status of refugee resettlement. Referencing the Executive Orders issued January 25 and 27, she said, “Immediately after the signing of the orders, our office received cancellations for 16 families.” She noted that many have been rebooked, “and have come or are coming.” However, Harris expressed sadness over a 60% reduction in future arrivals. “We know that resettlement saves lives and so many lives may be lost because of this situation,” Harris remarked. “We have not seen new bookings of refugees past March 3, from any country.”
The Rev. Dr. Bruce Cromwell, Central Free Methodist, inspired and energized those present with a summary of practical can-do’s. Displays on the grounds provided additional information from various agencies on how participants might carry their concern forward with tutoring and other volunteer efforts. While the Prayer Vigil focused on spiritual renewal, finding pathways to hope through action was also a key aspect of the gathering.
Prayers of the people were lifted up in the six languages, representing the major refugee populations resettled in greater Lansing: Farsi, Arabic, Somali, Burmese, Swahili, and Nepali. Rev. Eric Mulanda Nduwa, born in DR Congo and now Associate Pastor of Mt. Hope UMC, prayed for the world in Swahili.
Yard signs were distributed saying, “Hate Has No Home Here,” in these same languages. More signs have been ordered and will be available at University UMC, East Lansing.
Rev. Alice Fleming Townley, a United Methodist pastor currently serving as Parish Associate at the Presbyterian Church of Okemos, was a key organizer of the event. She shared closing remarks. “Thank you for coming and for lamenting over the refugee ban,” she said. “Thank you for overcoming the temptation of feeling helpless.” Townley encouraged continued friendship and truth telling. “Listen to needs, give generously, speak to policy and legislation, take on courage,” she added.
Townley told MIConnect that she values her role with AFAR. “I am not a lobbyist,” she said. “I am just a minister with friends.” Bridging relationships across The United Methodist and Presbyterian churches and the Interfaith Clergy Association brought a depth to her organizing of the Prayer Vigil. And the work goes on. “Yesterday was transfiguration. Today we are off the mountaintop and back into the valley.”
In the 24 hours since the Vigil, she has set up the next event, a training sponsored by the AFAR community that will take place across from the state Capitol on March 26, 4:30 pm at Central United Methodist Church; the focus is working with elected officials. “This is one step at a time, with no master plan,” Townley asserted. “Just joining hands and putting one foot in front of the other.”
Bishop Bard recounts a personal highlight of the experience that took place as he was standing with the rabbi and imam. “We were each reading, in turn, a scripture text from our tradition. As I was reading from the Gospel of Luke, holding my Bible and a microphone, the winds kicked up, making it difficult to keep the pages still.” In his distress, help came. “Suddenly I found the rabbi holding one side of the Bible and the imam holding the other side to keep the pages from blowing, allowing me to read more easily.”
Bishop Bard concludes, “That moment crystalized what was best about the vigil, persons coming together to encourage each other to live out the best of our various faith traditions—to live with compassion, mercy and justice.”