|Bishops launch Rethink Church with worker outreach|
United Methodist Bishop Thomas Bickerton visits with Alicia Galvez at
the Gaithersburg (Md.) Workers Center. The visit was part of the
kickoff of the denomination’s “Rethink Church” campaign. UMNS photos by
By Linda Green*
May 5, 2009 | GAITHERSBURG, Md. (UMNS)
Mario Ramirez of El Salvador comes daily to a trailer on a parking
lot in this Washington, D.C., suburb looking for work as a gardener or
general day laborer.
Workers enjoy breakfast at the center.
On May 5, some 15 United Methodist bishops visited the ministry
site, called Casa de Maryland, bearing support, fellowship and Holy
Communion as part of the launch of a “Rethink Church” campaign taking
United Methodist faith out into the world.
Ramirez and the bishops shared the same goal: to build a future where every person is treated with equality and dignity.
“This was a day of taking the good news out into the world. United
Methodists, look around you. There are so many opportunities to be the
church day in and day out,” said Phoenix Bishop Minerva Carcaño,
chairperson of the denomination’s immigration task force. “It is a joy
to be Christ’s presence in the world.”
Three groups of bishops on May 5 took time out from their annual
spring meeting to meet with day laborers and migrant workers in
Washington, Gaithersburg and Culmore, Va., to provide pastoral care and
help kick off the denomination’s Rethink Church campaign, the next
evolution of The United Methodist Church’s “Open hearts. Open minds.
Open doors” welcoming and advertising campaign.
Bishop Minerva Carcaño blesses
Holy Communion elements to
share with day laborers.
Taking a hands-on approach, bishops visited the worker sites to
demonstrate there are thousands of ways, traditional and
nontraditional, for a person to engage with the church.
At the Maryland site, bishops wearing red jackets, white shirts and
red hats with the Rethink Church logo provided prayer, Holy Communion
and words of comfort for some 25 day laborers.
The launching of the Rethink Church campaign at a day laborer camp
“is a way of saying to those who are immigrants that we walk with you,
we journey with you, Christ journeys with you. Scripture calls us to
love you, and therefore we are here with you,” Carcaño said.
‘Leave the four walls’
During their nearly 40-minute visit, the bishops told the workers
that The United Methodist Church is an advocate for comprehensive
immigration reform in order to heal their families and the country. The
visit showed the church as more than a building with four walls.
The Rev. David Juan Rocha (right foreground), pastor of the city’s Camino
de Vida United Methodist Church, welcomes Bishop Gregory Palmer.
“Leave the four walls. Go out. The church is very alive. If we keep
our pews full, the people in the streets will not find Jesus,” said the
Rev. David Rocha, leader of Casa de Maryland.
Rocha, a native of Colombia and a former day laborer, had the idea
for the ministry when he was denied a cup of coffee from a church more
than five years ago.
“I escaped from Colombia with my family because I was threatened,”
he said. “I left everything, came to this country and then started
finding odd jobs in the area.” Ministry soon began in the parking lot
when he served coffee and provided Scripture and prayer to those
“This was my first congregation,” said Rocha, now the chairperson of
Hispanic and Latino ministries for the Baltimore-Washington Annual
Rocha called the bishops’ visit a gift from God. “It represents a
voice to people without voice to places were our voice needs to be
recognized,” he said. “Groups or people who live on the border need
voices in the places where decisions are made to create better
Laborers find comfort
Laborers said the bishops’ visit was a sign of God’s love.
“This is a blessing for us,” Ramirez said. “The bishops told me that
they would take our voice to different places to advocate immigrant
reform and better living and dignity for us.” For his future, he hopes
“that every person will be treated equal and with dignity.”
Jose Luis, a native of Peru, comes to the day laborer site daily
seeking employment in painting. “In these difficult days, I have been
coming very often,” he said through an interpreter. Seeing the bishops
of The United Methodist Church come to the day camp “was a nice visit.
It has been a visit of comfort,” he said.
Carcaño told Luis that the United Methodist bishops wanted him and other day laborers to know they are not alone.
“I don’t think that it is enough to simply declare that we stand
with the immigrant,” she said. The launching of Rethink Church at a day
laborer camp “was a way of saying to those who are immigrants that we
walk with you, we journey with you, Christ journeys with you. Scripture
calls us to love you and therefore we are here with you.”
Church makes a difference
Through the immigration task force, the church is advocating for
comprehensive immigration reform – reform that Carcaño said recognizes
that people are living under a broken immigration policy that separates
families, violates the human and civil rights of immigrants, and fails
to recognize the need for the labor force.
Bishop Susan Hassinger visits
with Wilfredo Calderón.
Searching the Internet for work brought Donald Ominde of Kenya to
Casa de Maryland three months ago. He told the bishops his desire is to
live well, get a job and raise a family. “The church can help me by
praying for life. The church can pray for us to find work and to live a
good life,” Ominde said.
Minnesota Bishop Sally Dyck said the message she hopes the bishops
sent through their presence at Casa de Maryland was “that the church
cares not only about the effects of the economy on the persons who are
here for day jobs, but also about where these folk are coming from and
situations they left at home.”
Through the bishops’ presence and through Rethink Church, Dyck said,
“the day laborers will see the church as a place and people that can
help them. This is a place on a parking lot, reaching out to people.
You can have a ministry anywhere. It is not only rethink, but finding
ways of imagining how we can be the church.”
*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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