God knows why we won’t go to Phoenix

Steve Krissby Steve Kriss, Philadelphia Praise Center (reposted from Mennonite World Review, by permission)

My church is made up of immigrants and migrants. We are political refugees. We have arrived here because of economic realities. We’ve been granted religious asylum. We’ve come to Philadelphia to find ourselves, to find flourishing space. We all landed in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Compassion for different reasons, and we’ve become the largest Mennonite Church USA congregation in the city.

This summer, though, we won’t be going to Phoenix to join with other Mennonites to discern and fellowship. We’re staying home from the MC USA convention because we’re honoring those among us who are undocumented and would risk too much in making the trip to Arizona. We know that bearing witness this summer is important, but we won’t put our most vulnerable members at risk by traveling there.

While other churches in our denomination wonder what it might be like to break the law to assist the undocumented, we have no question about our call to ministry. We know that Jesus ministered to those who were on the outside. We know that in taking that call seriously we must live in grace and recognize that our community of Mennonites includes both the legally documented and those who are underdocumented in the eyes of the law. We know that God knows our statuses and names, can count the hairs on our head and extends to us all the grace of daily bread.

Over much of our congregation’s history, placards up front in our worship space have called for immigration reform. They are underneath our cross, behind our pulpit and next to our drums. This call for justice is interwoven into the life of our congregation and our existence as a community. We are not insiders or outsiders based on our citizenship. We are a community of people who have decided to journey together as Mennonites in the very locale where the Mennonite seed took root in this hemisphere.

We applaud and seek to support the efforts of churches that take the issues of immigration seriously. Immigration reform will happen when the hearts of citizens change. We celebrate all that will be learned at Phoenix for those who attend. We hope the hearts of all in our churches will continue to be touched by the complexity of the situation and the simplicity of grace. I hope that somehow in this journey to Phoenix we’ll realize that immigrants — documented or undocumented — aren’t outsiders in our Anabaptist/Mennonite communities.

The journey to Arizona invites all of us to reflect on our own stories of migration. For many of us, a journey’s purity is polished in the retelling. We have not all landed on these shores willingly, legally or peaceably. The reasons for migration and the outgrowth of those realities are just as complicated now as when the streams of Swiss/ German/Dutch Mennonites made their way into colonial Pennsylvania — where Africans were being sold on auction blocks along the shore, ripped and trafficked from their homes across the Atlantic.

Early Anabaptists followed the invitation of the Spirit toward witness — knowing that at times it required actions that were contrary to the law and that risked relational harmony. This summer at Philly Praise and in other MC USA congregations across the country, our absence at Phoenix will be a witness to our denomination.

As we journey and seek first God’s sovereignty, may we also discover the breadth of God’s love and re-encounter the Spirit that binds us together across language, ethnicity, culture and status, inviting us all to be redefined under Christ.