Tag Archives: Peace & Justice Committee

Immigration, Sanctuary, and the Church

By Robert Walden

The following are excerpts on the Winter Peace Retreat Report.  For the full report from the Peace and Justice Committee visit efpjc.ppjr.org/pjnews/pjn1803.pdf.

On February 9 to 11, around 50 participants gathered at St Mary of Providence Retreat Center in Elverson, PA to participate in the 2018 Eastern District and Franconia Conference Winter Peace Retreat. This year’s theme was “Immigration, Sanctuary, and the Church”.

Tammy Alexander

The weekend began with a family activity led by Tammy Alexander, Senior Legislative Associate for Domestic Affairs in the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Washington, Office: “People on the Move: A Migration Exercise”. The activity sparked conversation around what people go through when they are uprooted from their homelands, the sacrifices they are forced to make, the struggles they endure and the questions they carry with them about safety and what they may encounter in a new land.

Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and Director of New Sanctuary Movement Philadelphia, shared about his own family’s migration journey, his father from Italy and his mother from England. Settling in Hartford, CT, Peter grew up with stories of why his family left Italy and some of the struggles they had when they came to this country. He shared how people often took advantage of his grandmother because she didn’t speak English. This is a frequent experience today for immigrants of color in the U.S. when compared to the relatively privileged status of white immigrants.

Peter also shared the origins of New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, a grassroots organization led by affected immigrants to “win immigrant justice campaigns with our members across nationality, faith, class, and immigration status.” When Peter came to the Philadelphia to join the House of Grace Catholic Worker, it was at a time when there were growing rates of workplace raids and immigrant deportations, and proposed legislation in the U.S. Congress was hostile to immigrants. During this time a small group of clergy, immigrants, and allies started coming together about the situation. They discovered that a lot of people in Philadelphia were engaged with immigration issues, but nobody was organizing in the faith community. So, little by little, they began organizing in coffee shops and in living rooms, until one day they had a movement. Peter then left the Catholic Worker and started to do this full time.

According to their website, New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia is “an interfaith, multicultural immigrant justice movement organizing communities to end injustices against immigrants, regardless of status”. This is done through partnering and educating faith communities. Currently working with 28 congregations including two Franconia Conference congregations, member congregations assist in trainings, workshops, campaigns, and accompanying families facing deportation.

One of the ways presented to participants at the retreat that congregations can get involved is accompaniment – walking with families facing deportation. Accompaniment is not to provide legal representation.  People who provide accompaniment aren’t lawyers; what they do is stand in solidarity. Much of it is going to court – just showing up in immigration court or criminal court or probation check-in with a group of 5, 10 or 15 people, as a witness. They form a little prayer circle in front of the court.  They come in and wait in front of the court room with two goals in mind: (1) surround the person with community, and really have their back in that situation; and (2) command accountability, because the people in the court know that folks are watching them. It’s not that the presence of NSM will automatically win the case, but there have been occasions when after the person’s case is presented and seven people stand up to leave, the judge asks, “Oh, is that the New Sanctuary Movement?”

There is something uplifting about having that visual representation of God’s presence in the courtroom. Bringing the power of God’s love into that environment does something to bring people hope. There are many times when NSM has seen people win cases that they did not think were possible – when people come out of it saying, “This is a miracle; this is God.” For those of us who are immigrant allies not directly affected by immigration law, this is an opportunity to see how the system works and moves us into exploring why so many people are in detention and deportation.

Immigration is a large part of the Franconia Conference and Eastern District story. Our ancestors were immigrants to the Franconia area and we are honored to learn from and walk with our more recent immigrant brothers and sisters. If you are interested in learning more about the immigration stories in Franconia Conference, contact the Conference Office for a copy of a short documentary complete with discussion guide that can be used in Sunday School or other formats.

Read about Philadelphia Praise Center’s Pastor Aldo Siahaan’s involvement in A New Sanctuary Movement Action HERE.

Read the Pastoral Response from Franconia Conference Leadership Regarding DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) HERE.


Conferences end Peace and Justice Minister role

by Stephen Kriss, Franconia director of communication

Samantha LioiAfter a two-and-a-half-year experiment with a new model for peace and justice ministry in Eastern District and Franconia Conferences, conference leaders ended the contract with Samantha Lioi (Whitehall congregation) as Peace and Justice Minister on November 30, 2014 due to lack of funds. The peace and justice role relied on above-budget giving to the two conferences from individuals and congregations.  Contributions did not match ongoing expenses, leading to the position’s termination.

After consulting with leaders from both conferences, Franconia Conference issued a 90-day intent to discontinue Lioi’s contract in August 2014 if sufficient funds were not raised within that timeframe.  According to Franconia executive minister Ertell M. Whigham, there was a strong desire to find a way to keep the position funded and the conferences appreciated a last-ditch effort from numerous congregations to bridge the funding gap.

Both conferences hope to continue the important work that Lioi began in this experimental position. The role will be further reimagined within both Conference structures and alongside the Peace and Justice Committee serving both conference communities.

Lioi was appreciated by many congregations and leaders in her pastoral presence, work at initiating congregational peace representatives, and collaboration around important issues.  Both Whigham and Eastern District conference minister Warren Tyson expressed words of appreciation for Lioi’s ministry.  “We intend to find another way to extend Samantha’s good work,” said Whigham.  “She contributed passionately toward the ministry of Franconia Conference congregations. Her work is appreciated and her presence among conference staff will be deeply missed.”

U.S. War-culture, Sacrifice and Salvation

Kelly Denton-BorhaugFollowing the events of Sept. 11, 2001, Rev. Kelly Denton-Borhaug, Associate Professor and Chair of the Religion Department at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pa., began to investigate the links between Christian understandings of sacrifice and U.S. militarism and war.

This morning, Denton-Borhaug spoke at the Pastors and CRM Leaders’ Breakfast about the topic of her book, U.S. War-culture, Sacrifice and SalvationA “war-culture,” said Denton-Borhaug, is the increasing interpenetration of the ethos and practices of war into ever-increasing facets of daily human life.  Drawing on information from economists, sociologists, and pop culture, Denton-Borhaug gave illustrations of how this war-culture has developed and overdeveloped, especially in the years since 9/11, and how the language of sacrifice fosters what can be considered a national “war religion.”

Peace advocates must talk about and study the reality of war-culture in the United States, Denton-Borhaug encouraged, to begin to diffuse the mystery that surrounds it.  This will be the topic of the upcoming Winter Peace Retreat, sponsored by the Franconia and Eastern District Conferences’ Peace & Justice Committee.

Listen to the podcast from this morning’s breakfast and view the PowerPoint presentation, which includes additional information and statistics beyond what Denton-Borhaug covered in her presentation.  Contact Kelly.


Download the podcast

Remembering Becky Felton

from the Peace & Justice Committee of Eastern District and Franconia Conferences

Becky FeltonThe 2012 Peace Mug Award for Franconia and Eastern District Conferences, announced at the  joint fall Conference Assembly, honors Becky Felton, who passed away peacefully on November 2, 2012 after a courageous struggle with cancer.

Becky was a persistent advocate for peace and justice in her congregation, Perkasie Mennonite Church, in her community, and with the Peace & Justice Committee. Wayne Nitzsche, her pastor, described Becky as a congregational peacemaker in many ways.  “Perkasie has a worship ritual of lighting a peace lamp as we recite our pledge to be peacemakers. Becky urged us to consider and pray for peace locally and globally. She invited the congregation to participate in peace retreats and walks and brought needs for peace to our attention,” he reflected.  “But most importantly, Becky modeled the way of Jesus in her relationships in the congregation and beyond.”

Becky organized an intergenerational “Faith in Action” Sunday school class to keep peace and justice issues in front of the congregation.  The bi-monthly class has taken.on issues like The DREAM Act, hunger and homelessness, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Becky suggested topics for the class and sometimes recommended or invited guest speakers. Faith in Action is not only about education, but also invites everyone to act.  “She made us write letters and make phone calls –  to help us speak our own little peace” to situations of oppression and conflict, one friend remembered.

Becky also faced her terminal illness with peace, knowing that she was at peace with God and with others.

Jason Hedrick,  Peace and Justice Committee chairperson, described Becky as “a pillar of the committee and a mentor. She created space for me to learn and grow from the time I first started to serve on the committee and even more so when I took over the role as chair. Her life modeled what it meant to work for peace; to consider those who were marginalized, both within our own community and outside; to take the time to listen to those who had differing view points; and to challenge others to grow, to take action. Mostly, though, she was a friend. What better way is there to work towards peace in the world than to be a friend to someone?”

Those who knew her well describe Becky as a champion of peace and justice,  at peace with God  and  at  peace  with others.   Becky served the Peace & Justice Committee as secretary, as financial secretary, and, for the past ten years, as registrar for our annual Winter Peace Retreat.   But because of her broad understanding of current peace and social justice issues and her character, these roles don’t adequately describe her presence and her leadership, both in her congregation and with us on the Peace & Justice Committee. She was aware, compassionate, proactive.

peace mug presentation
Jason Hedrick & Samantha Lioi from the Peace & Justice Committee present the peace mug to Becky’s husband Jon and children Cody & Torey. Photo by Kreg D. Ulery.

“We appreciated her sense of humor,” noted Samanthi Lioi, the conferences’ minister of peace and justice, “because it’s really easy, especially for peace people, to take ourselves too seriously. Just by who she was, Becky steered us clear of that. And her pragmatic questions and focus on specific action was indispensable as a balance for the idealism and big ideas of some others of us. It was a fruitful balance – vision shaped by attention to planning and details. Thinking of Becky’s efficiency, and her way of getting huge amounts of work done–while being friendly about it!, I’m humbled…and reminded how deeply we need each other as we go about joining God’s birthing of shalom in the world. While we feel deep gratitude as a committee for Becky’s way of nurturing peace among us, I’m not sure we know how much we’re going miss her.”

Peace Mugs, provided by the Peace and Justice Support Network  of Mennonite Church USA, are awarded by our Peace & Justice Committee to honor  those among us who demonstrate a life-long commitment to peace and justice.  Find out more about the Peace & Justice Committee on their website.

Conferences contract Peace & Justice Minister

Samantha LioiHARLEYSVILLE, PA: Eastern District and Franconia Conferences have contracted a new Peace and Justice Minister to resource congregations in a deeper witness of “shalom,” a holistic understanding of peace rooted in Christ. Samantha Lioi, Whitehall congregation, began work for the conferences in May.

Lioi, a graduate of AMBS with a concentration in peace studies, is passionate about God’s concern for both mercy and justice as expressed in the prophets and the life and teachings of Jesus. “My experiences in Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at the Penn Foundation over the past year with people facing and working to heal from their addictions has highlighted the need for these complementary movements of mercy and justice,” said Lioi, “finding oneself loved by a Creator and welcomed in the midst of sin and brokenness, and being invited to claim responsibility for one’s actions and make amends.”

But the roots of her fascination with the ways different people perceive and interpret the world and their place in it go back even further. They can be traced through her curiosity and attentiveness as a child during missionary visits to her congregation, her introduction to Mennonite faith and practice while attending Houghton College, intercultural experiences in college and seminary, and a trip to Colombia last year with Christian Peacemaker Teams.  “[That trip] confirmed my desire to continue connecting—through friendship and partnership—with people working for justice and dignity in international relations,” Lioi said.

Lioi moved to Allentown in November 2010 to give additional leadership to the Whitehall congregation and help birth the Zume House, an intentional community that includes pastors from the Whitehall and Ripple congregations.  Lioi finished her short-term service at Whitehall in January, but continues to be involved in the life of both of these congregations.

“I envision Samantha’s ministry developing relationships between rural, suburban and urban congregations,” said Warren Tyson, conference minister for Eastern District Conference.  “I look forward to seeing how Samantha’s vision and passion for peace and justice ministries will affect Eastern District Conference and Franconia Conference congregations living out God’s missional call in local settings.”

Lioi is contracted through the joint Peace and Justice Committee of both conferences, a committee she joined in March 2011.  She will serve as a liaison to strengthen relationships among faith communities, facilitate mutual resourcing, and encourage congregations to be bold in following the Spirit’s prompting.  (Read the full job description here.)

“I’m excited about the collaboration with Samantha and Eastern District Conference,” said Ertell Whigham, executive minister of Franconia Conference.  “I believe it’s the next step of our conferences working together toward understanding peace and justice as the core of what it means to be the intercultural people of God.”


Samantha is in the process of meeting with pastors and other leaders to learn how congregations are already modeling God’s peace and what kind of resourcing would be helpful.  To schedule a meeting with Samantha, contact her at 484.632.2651 or samantha@interculturalchurch.com.

Eastern District Conference will be handling Samantha’s financial support package.  All gifts to support this ministry should be made payable to Eastern District Conference, Roger Perry, treas., 734 Martingale Rd, Schwenksville, PA 19473, memo: Peace and Justice Minister support.