05/10/12 — Clergy will meet to discuss churches, immigration issues

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Clergy will meet to discuss churches, immigration issues

By Kelly Corbett
Published in News on May 10, 2012 1:46 PM

A group of clergy will get together next week to discuss their role in dealing with the issue of immigration and the people affected by it.

"From Hostility to Hospitality: Immigration and the Church" is one in a series of clergy breakfasts on immigration by the North Carolina Council of Churches. Since 2009, 25 breakfasts on immigration have been held across the state.

On May 15, that tour will include a stop in Mount Olive.

"We are looking to focus on some more rural areas," said Chris Liu-Beers, program associate of the state Council of Churches, adding that many rural areas are deeply affected by immigration.

First Baptist Church in Mount Olive is hosting the breakfast and discussion, which will be from 8:30-10 a.m. at the church at 300 N. Chestnut St.

First Baptist has already been dealing with an influx of immigrants who have come to the area to find work in several of the local plants and with Mount Olive Pickle Co. In response, the church now holds Hispanic and Haitian church services in addition to its traditional services.

"For us, that's a perfect kind of setting," Liu-Beers said.

Pastor Dennis Atwood will speak about his congregation's personal experiences with immigration.

"We will hear several different perspectives," Liu-Beers said.

The main speaker, the Rev. John Richardson, regional minister of Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), will also tell a story about an immigrant family and the death of their 13-year-old daughter.

"From that story, it caused me to look at (immigration) in a more reflective way, a more concerned way," Richardson said.

The purpose of the story is to explain how immigrants and strangers should be treated, he said.

"I want to encourage them to look at it from a biblical perspective," Richardson said.

The faith leaders who attend the breakfasts come with varying levels of knowledge about immigration issues, including some wanting to learn and some with established minority ministries.

At previous breakfasts, immigrants have also told their own personal stories.

The issue is one Liu-Beers and the Council have taken an interest in for several years.

"We realized that one of the needs out there is to have clergy have a handle on the issue," he said. "I think it's worked because it's faith-based. We've just tried to make it as easy and convenient for pastors to come and participate."

At the breakfast, Liu-Beers will update attendees on the Supreme Court hearing on the Arizona immigration law and other new laws and policies.

"It's not a debate," he said.

It is about how communities can get involved. And churches are often on the front lines of these issues, Liu-Beers said.

As far as denominations, he said involvement in immigration issues depends on the local towns and demographics.

"Almost all denominations and churches, they almost all agree on some of the main points," Liu-Beers said. "In terms of the official policies, almost all churches have a wide overlap in terms of what they believe and what a response should be."

The breakfast will address the immigration issues in three methods -- education, service and advocacy.

Education is not only learning more about the issues, but about meeting with people and teaching others about immigration. Service is what the churches can do, how they can get involved and provide things, such as English courses, food pantries and clothing donations. Through advocacy, churches can share their own views about policies and how laws are being enacted, Liu-Beers said.

"There's so many ways to get involved," he said.

About 15 people are already signed up for the breakfast from a wide range of theological backgrounds and surrounding areas. Registration for the free breakfast will be taken until 5 p.m. Friday, although walk-ins can still attend.

For more information or to register, visit bit.ly/MO-immigration.