Welcoming the Stranger: Next Steps

​A special message from Senior Pastor Scott Black Johnston

On April 24, at a joint meeting of the Session and Trustees of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, we heard a report from the Task Force on the Faithful Engagement of Immigration, Refugee and Sanctuary Issues. It was an important moment for our church. This report points Fifth Avenue in a clear direction as we seek to address these complicated issues -- issues that confront Christians, in one way or another, every day.

Formed in September, this diverse group of members, led by Ken Henderson and Lane Maurer, spent months studying the Bible, public statements from Christian denominations (including Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists and Roman Catholics), American law and public policy. They delved into the archives to uncover a fascinating repository of stories about how this church, from its inception, has reached out to care for immigrants and refugees in need.

The task force is putting the finishing touches on a full, written report that we will make available on our website. We are also preparing an e-book that will guide readers on a study of important passages in Scripture that speak to these issues. And beginning this Sunday, the Chesnut Gallery will feature an eye-opening exhibit chronicling our long history of reaching out to the stranger with Christ's love.

But there is much more work to be done. 

Among the recommendations the task force is asking the congregation to consider are these:

  • That we explore sponsoring another refugee family, ideally one based in New York. (We currently are co-sponsors of the Sharif family, who live in Philadelphia.)
  • That we provide support for a refugee aid group, such as Church World Service, that operates abroad helping refugees in tenuous situations.
  • That we find ways to support the sanctuary movement, including by providing volunteers for aspects of their work.
  • That we advocate for immigration policies that reflect God's grace, love and oft-repeated command to "welcome the stranger in your midst!"
  • That we honor the immigrants among us with a Celebrate Immigration Sunday.

In the coming months, we are going to parcel out these recommendations to various committees and working groups. Before long, we will all be called to play a part in helping to carry these initiatives forward. This will take time, as we seek the right partners for this work. It will also require additional financial commitment to increase our engagement with refugee families.

I recognize that there is vast political disagreement in this country over how best to address these issues. But that is no reason not to get involved. I encourage you to find a place to plug in, and make your voice heard. My hope is that Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church will once again be a light, a beacon, a model for how a diverse community can work together in making a difference for the world that God so loves.

The love of Christ is bigger than any policy disagreement. It truly is. Let that love prevail as we make our way forward with this vital, life-saving work.

See you in worship,

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