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United Methodists join in demonstrating for immigrants

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A UMNS photo by Jay Mallin

United Methodist Bishop Minerva Carcaņo addresses protesters gathered on the National Mall April 10.

April 11, 2006

A UMNS Report
By Kathy L. Gilbert*

Immigration rallies across the United States on April 10 signal that something hopeful and historic is brewing, said United Methodist Church leaders, after nearly 2 million marched in 140 cities for the rights of undocumented people.

"It was a powerful witness that indeed this is a much broader movement, broader than we have seen in years," said the Rev. Eliezer Valentin-Castaņon, executive with the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race. "It is something that brings hope to my heart and soul that something is brewing. We were part of history yesterday and will continue to be part of history."

Hundreds of thousands gathered in the nation's capital, where United Methodist Bishop Minerva Carcaņo, who leads the denomination's Phoenix Area, was one of several speakers to address the crowd.

"It was exciting to see the first Latina bishop of the United Methodist Church telling her own story of her immigrant family," Valentin-Castaņon said. "It was a terrific testimony for the folks gathered in that place."

Carcaņo told the crowd, "I am a person of faith, but I am also a daughter of immigrants."

When she said that, the crowd went wild, Valentin-Castaņon said.

More touching than that to Carcaņo were the people from all over the world who sought her out on the stage and asked her to speak for them. "They would take my hand with tears in their eyes, and they would embrace me and thank me. Those people represent the multitudes.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Jay Mallin

Members of First United Methodist Church, Hyattsville, Md., join Washington demonstrators in advocating for immigrants' rights.

"One woman told me she just wanted to be reunited with her children," said Carcaņo. "She told me she had been separated from them for many years, and she wanted me to tell people about the importance of reuniting families."

"It was an incredible experience," she said. "I feel like I am holding the sacred lives of people in my hands and that we as United Methodists are holding the sacred lives of people in our hands, and we can't stop now."

Before the 4 p.m. rally, the Rev. Joan Maruskin, Washington representative of Church World Service, spoke to a group gathered in the United Methodist Building. "It is a migrant Christ that travels with us," she said.

"In the parable of the vineyards, Christ says everyone deserves equal pay," she said. "Christ led a life of leading the marginalized and oppressed, and he would be traveling with us today to the rally."

"Several people have called this the beginning of a civil rights movement for the undocumented of this country," said Bill Mefford, executive with the United Methodist Board of Church and Society. "One of the things that was so noticeable to me at the march was the presence of U.S. flags everywhere. It was really patriotic."

The overall mood of the crowd was one of celebration, Mefford said.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by John C. Goodwin

Bishop Jeremiah Park (center) joins some 100 other United Methodists at a rally with immigrant supporters in New York.

Valentin-Castaņon said it was a gathering of immigrants from all around the world and was a real picture of the community. "There was a strong sense of unity, that we are all together in this — not just Mexicans, as usually is the expression."

Jana Meyer, minister of missions at Foundry United Methodist Church, was part of a crowd of 20,000 "neighbors" who marched from Malcom X Park down 16th Street. "It was a powerful symbol for us all to march together," she said. "So many people from so many walks of life are coming together."

Meyer is part of an outreach ministry at Foundry that works with undocumented day laborers a block away from the church.

"They are so much a part of our lives, and they should have the right to work and live and have justice," she said.

T.C. Morrow, also a member of Foundry and program associate for the Churches' Center for Theology and Public Policy, walked with a group of students from Wesley Theological Seminary.

"If the church is the body of Christ, then our feet had better be marching alongside the least of these, which includes our brothers and sisters labeled ?outsiders,'" said Rachel McIver, probationary candidate in the United Methodist Church.

"The Gospel message calls us to welcome the stranger and to stand in solidarity with the least of these," said Chett Pritchett, Wesley Theological Seminary student. "It's not a political issue, it is a Christian issue."

New York rally

In New York, United Methodist Bishop Jeremiah Park led clergy and laity in a prayer vigil at historic John Street United Methodist Church in lower Manhattan before attending a rally with tens of thousands of immigrant supporters at City Hall Park.

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A UMNS photo by John C. Goodwin

Members of the New York Annual Conference demonstrate in support of immigrants during a march that ended at City Hall Park in New York.

Park reminded worshippers that he is a first-generation Korean immigrant. "With God's people, we are not alone, he declared. "Today we are here to walk with the Jesus who walked with the underprivileged, the lost and the least. Together with him, we will help make America stronger, our future better and our lives richer."

Austin Adkinson, a member of St. Paul and St. Andrew United Methodist Church, was among those who then walked to City Hall. "We stayed together as a block of Methodists," he told United Methodist News Service.

The United Methodist participants gathered behind a long banner proclaiming the denomination's presence and support for immigrant peoples. Political leaders, city officials and leaders of various immigrant organizations emphasized the importance of immigrants, their contributions to the life of the United States and the need to develop legislation that will legitimize their presence and recognize their rights.

Park was one of the many speakers who took to the stage at the rally, along with New York's two U.S. senators, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles Schumer. Clinton is a United Methodist.

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A UMNS photo by John C. Goodwin

Supporters of immigrants crowd the streets of lower Manhattan on April 10.

"As a Methodist, it's right in the Christian tradition to stand up with the least of these," Adkinson said. The current political attempts at immigration reform are not in that tradition, he added. "I think it's really important as a person of faith to say it's not the right approach."

Adkinson, who will attend Union Seminary in the fall and lives in a neighborhood with many immigrants from the Dominican Republic, said he can "see the consequences of what trying to live life underground creates."

Usually, he added, the immigrant community "is largely hidden to most Americans." He believes the recent rallies and marches by immigrants and their supporters "has created a different awareness of the situation. It's making people think about things they ordinarily didn't think about before."

In Washington, Maruskin said this is a movement led by God.

"The spirit of God is moving throughout the country and will continue to do so until a wonderful, comprehensive immigration reform bill that will result in legalization for our undocumented sisters and brothers is actually put into place."

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn. Linda Bloom, United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York, and Don Collier, New York Conference communicator, contributed to this report.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

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