The phrase "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You!" has never meant more since Episcopalians have had to come to grips with the reality of those uprooted by hurricane Katrina. The outpouring of offers by Episcopalians to assist in relocating the displaced has been enormous.
All Saints Church in Hampton, South Carolina, is ready to convert their parish hall into temporary living quarters. A member of Piedmont Episcopal Church in Madison, Virginia, has not only offered to find rentals but also to transport up to four people from the devastation in his Cessna. Episcopal conference centers have offered to adjust their schedules to accomodate many of Katrina's victims.
From St. Mary's in Dyersburg, Tennessee, to Holy Trinity in Melbourne, Florida, to St. Bartholomew's in Bemidji, Minnesota, churches are making known their desire to extend hospitality to stranded Gulf Coast neighbors. And Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM) is quickly putting into action a plan to match congregations and church institutions with families in need of transitional support.
Welcoming newcomers who are refugees is a familiar experience to hundreds of Episcopal parishes. Across decades congregations have received waves of Eastern Europeans, Southeast Asians, and Africans forced to flee their countries because of political strife or war. These individuals could not return to their homes because of a well-founded fear of persecution, which distinguishes them from Gulf Coast families for whom displacement and devastating loss is the result of a natural disaster. But with little hope of returning soon – or maybe ever – to places like New Orleans, Biloxi, and Gulfport, folks need the alternatives our churches are willing to provide.
EMM, the refugee advocacy and resettlement arm of the church, is quickly gearing up to facilitate the relocation of desperate individuals and is hoping that many Episcopal churches will respond. From the looks of things, since EMM announced that it would apply its expertise in resettlement to relieve the burden of Katrina's displaced, this goal is utterly achievable. Congregations and communities that are willing to offer welcome should send contact information to EMM@episcopalchurch.org