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From the Pastor's Desk
The sign beside the main entrance facing Main Street on the near-east side of Columbus reads “All are welcome.” It’s a sign that actually appears larger than the name on the building itself, First English Lutheran Church.
It was April 2017. It was a meeting of the redevelopment team, a group of about eight individuals who helped lead outreach ministries and programs at First English. Members include representatives from partner churches and even some individuals in the local neighborhood. In discussing the needs of the surrounding community and ways for the church to give aid in the name of Jesus, yours truly presented an off-the-wall idea. “Why don’t we change the name of the church? First English? It means nothing to the people within this community. They don’t relate to Lutheran heritage, so how can they assume the church can relate to theirs? This neighborhood is overwhelmingly minority now. It wasn’t in the late 1800s. The sign at the door that everyone sees reads “All are Welcome”. Why not change the name to 'All Are Welcome (Evangelical) Lutheran Church'?" The idea was well received, especially by the members from the neighborhood who concurred.
Two weeks later I received a call from Pastor Bob Abrams from the Synod office. He wanted to talk to me. “Uh-oh” was my first thought. Must be in trouble for that name change comment. Guess it wasn’t such a well-received idea after all! Well, that wasn’t the reason for his call, my call at Zion was the reason. Now that’s an off-the-wall idea!
But all are welcome indeed at First English. Last week, the church granted sanctuary to Miriam Vargas, a Honduran refugee living in the U.S. since 2005 to flee gang violence in her native land. She is the mother of 2, ages 5 and 9, who are U.S. citizens by their birth in the states. On June 25, Miriam met with local ICE officials, who informed her that her legal status would not be granted and that she must return to Honduras by Wednesday. On Tuesday, she and her family moved into First English. The congregation, led by Pastor Sally Padgett, had approved this action two weeks prior. While Vargas continues to work with an attorney to obtain legalized status in America, she recognizes that for the time being she cannot leave the safety provided by the church.
Pastor Sally said, “You always have some trepidation; you don’t like making people angry. I hate that the country is so divisive, but you get to a point where churches have to decide who they are and what they’re about. We have to live this out.”
We have to live this out. We all do. It doesn’t matter that the border is more than 1500 miles away. 44 people have sought sanctuary in churches in the U.S. and only North Carolina (6) has more than Ohio (5). This isn’t a “border thing”. This isn’t something that just concerns others, and isn’t in our neighborhood or community. It is. We are called by Jesus to love our neighbor. We are called by Jesus to reach out to those in need. All of those in need. Citizen or not. All are welcome to Him just us He welcomes each of us. And people should be welcomed by each of us as well.
As the walls that separate nations are being built, those same materials may be used to build bridges. Bridges to reach others rather than keep them out. Bridges to help those leave one point of life filled with desperation and fear to reach a place of safety and loving support. Bridges to provide ways out of poverty, instead of keeping families trapped in a cycle of poverty for generations to come.
These are difficult times in our country. But at the end of the day, the symbol that most represents freedom for Christians is not an eagle or a flag. It’s a cross. And it’s the cross that has freed each and every one of us. Citizen or not. Black or white. Rich or poor. We have to live this out. It’s what He did for us and what we are called to do for all.