Episcopal volunteers provide Northern California fire evacuees with coffee, food, prayer

Debra Savino unloads water

The Rev. Debra Sabino, rector of the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour in Placerville, California, helps unload some of the supplies donated to evacuees who fled the Caldor Fire in Northern California. Photo courtesy of Debra Sabino

[Episcopal News Service] A small team of Episcopal clergy in the Diocese of Northern California spent the past several weeks ministering to some of the people and animals who were forced to flee their homes because of the Caldor Fire near Lake Tahoe. The Episcopalians brought coffee and food, marshaled donations of bikes for children and prayed with evacuees upon request.

They also have helped distribute money and gift cards that were furnished by a disaster relief effort led by the diocese, which announced this week that it had raised more than $11,000 in donations.

The Caldor Fire so far has consumed more than 200,000 acres and destroyed hundreds of structures. This week, emergency officials announced that fire crews had the fire about 50% contained, somewhat easing its threat to communities and homes. The Episcopal outreach continues as some parishioners from the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour in Placerville, who call themselves Team Caldor, are working with diocesan officials on a long-term assistance plan for the most financially vulnerable victims of the fire’s devastation.

“It’s not over yet,” the Rev. Debra Sabino said Sept. 8 as she described to Episcopal News Service some of the ongoing efforts to respond to the wildfires that continue to wreak havoc in Northern California and other parts of the West.

State officials said this week that wildfires had consumed about 2 million acres in California so far this year, and the fire season is expected to drag on, fueled by scorching heat, persistent drought and strong winds. At least a dozen large fires continue to burn in the state. The largest, the Dixie Fire northeast of Chico, has burned more than 900,000 acres.

“In the midst of the anxiety and despair that natural disasters bring, the Diocese of Northern California works hard to provide pastoral support, community, and resources to those in distress,” the diocese says on a page of online resources for disaster preparedness. The page also highlights the support it receives from Episcopal Relief & Development.

“As Christians, we are called to serve the vulnerable in our communities. In a disaster, our vulnerabilities are laid bare before us and our call to serve becomes clearly present,” the diocese says.

“The Diocese of Northern California is experienced at responding to disasters, particularly wildfires,” Katie Mears, senior director of Episcopal Relief & Development’s U.S. Disaster Program, said in a news release. “The staff had prepared in advance so they were able to quickly mobilize to help people affected by this year’s fires.”

Sabino has served for six years as rector at Our Saviour, located a little more than 10 miles west of the edge of the area burned by the Caldor Fire, which ignited on Aug. 14. Placerville was never threatened, though about 10 families from the congregation live in the evacuation zone and had to flee last month. None of those parishioners have lost their homes.

Many evacuees found refuge at a Red Cross shelter in Cameron Park, west of Placerville, with some setting up tents or parking RVs outside the shelter, Sabino said. A Walmart parking lot in Placerville also served as a temporary camp for evacuees.

“It was just chaotic. There were people filing in from everywhere,” she said.

Sabino and the Rev. Tom Gartin, priest-in-charge at Faith Episcopal Church in Cameron Park, prayed outside the Red Cross shelter early in the crisis and then joined with other clergy in the area to assist evacuees. A local Starbucks donated coffee, pastries and sandwiches for the clergy members to take to the people camped out in parking lots. Sabino lent her camper trailer to a nurse who had fled the Caldor Fire with her two dogs.

Sabino also visited D’Agostini Ranch in El Dorado County, which offered accommodations to evacuees, especially those who had fled with horses, livestock and other farm animals. The ranch provided temporary showers and laundry facilities, and volunteers helped distribute donated food to the families.

Sabino put out a call on Facebook for donations of bicycles and received about 20, which she brought to some of the children who were camping at the ranch until they and their families could return home.

Some evacuees asked Sabino to pray with them. Despite being displaced by the fire, “they were just so overwhelmingly positive,” she told ENS.

With conditions improving around Lake Tahoe, some of the evacuation orders are being lifted, and residents are able to return to assess any damage to their homes. The clergy members from Placerville and Cameron Park ended their daily deliveries of coffee and food this week, though they continue to visit people who remain at the shelters.

And with the Caldor Fire still consuming hundreds of acres each day, the smoke remains a health hazard. “The air quality is so bad,” Sabino said. “It’s like driving through a thick fog.”

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.

Source: Episcopal News

Ecumenical Patriarch, Pope and Archbishop of Canterbury call for the Protection of Creation

The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Pope Francis, and the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, issue joint message on creation.

Source: Anglican News

Faith leaders gather in Houston, Texas, in response to gun violence

A poster for “Change: A Faithful Response to Gun Violence.” Image via RedLetterChristians.org

A poster for “Change: A Faithful Response to Gun Violence.” Poster courtesy of Red Letter Christians

[Religion News Service] Red Letter Christians, a movement of left-leaning evangelicals, will lead a diverse group of faith leaders in a two-day rally against gun violence in Houston, Texas, this weekend. The event comes the same week that a new Texas law went into effect allowing citizens to carry firearms in public without a license, while eliminating a previously mandatory five-hour gun law and safety training.

Planned to coincide with the National Rifle Association’s annual convention, originally scheduled for Houston this weekend, the Red Letter Christians’ gathering will go on despite the cancellation of the NRA event, which would have included a 150th anniversary celebration.

Calling the rally “Change: A Faithful Response to Gun Violence,” it will also be available to view online through Facebook Live.

The two-day event also takes place after more than 20,000 Americans died by gun violence in 2020 — the highest rate in at least two decades — and another 24,000 lost their lives to suicide with a gun, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

“In the last 45 years, we’ve had more gun deaths domestically than in all of the wars in U.S. history combined,” said Shane Claiborne, co-founder of Red Letter Christians. “So that’s worth grieving.”

Garden tools made from guns, much like the prophecies of turning swords into plowshares. Photo courtesy of Red Letter Christians

Garden tools made from guns. Photo courtesy of Red Letter Christians

On Saturday there will be a hands-on gun disarming workshop at Houston Mennonite Church in partnership with RAWtools, a Colorado-based organization that transforms guns into garden tools as a reflection of Bible prophecies about turning swords into plowshares. The workshop will teach local faith leaders how to safely disable unwanted firearms according to federal guidelines.

Saturday will also include a service of remembrance at Houston’s Episcopal Christ Church Cathedral to honor the memories of those who have lost their lives to gun violence. During the service, an AR-15 rifle from an anonymous donor will be forged into a garden tool. On Sunday there will be a national service of hope and action at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church.

Events will take place outdoors when possible, and attendees are required to be masked and vaccinated.

“It’s time to stop trusting in this myth of redemptive violence that more guns are going to make us safer,” said Claiborne.

Faith leaders participating include the Rev. Deanna Hollas, gun violence prevention ministry coordinator with the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship; Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, the archbishop of Galveston-Houston; and the Rev. Harvey Clemons Jr., native Houstonian and pastor of Pleasant Hill Baptist, among others.

Red Letter Christians, founded in 2007 by Claiborne and Tony Campolo, aims to mobilize Christians to live out Jesus’ “radical, counter-cultural” teachings, according to their website.

This story was originally published by Religion News Service and is republished here with permission.

Source: Episcopal News

Church of England bishop resigns to join Roman Catholic Church

[Archbishop of Canterbury] Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has, with regret, accepted the resignation of Bishop Jonathan Goodall after eight years as bishop of Ebbsfleet, following his decision to seek full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.

Welby said, “I am deeply grateful to Bishop Jonathan for his ministry and many years of faithful service. My prayers are with him and Sarah, both for his future ministry and for the direction in which they are being called in their continuing journey of dedicated service to Christ.

“With regard to the see of Ebbsfleet, we will be starting a process of consultation with colleagues and others — including the parishes to whom Bishop Jonathan ministers — to determine what the next steps will be.”

Goodall said, “I have arrived at the decision to step down as bishop of Ebbsfleet, in order to be received into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church, only after a long period of prayer, which has been among the most testing periods of my life.

“Life in the communion of the Church of England has shaped and nourished my discipleship as a Catholic Christian for many decades. This is where I first received – and for half my life have ministered, as priest and bishop – the sacramental grace of Christian life and faith. I shall always treasure this and be thankful for it. I trust you all to believe that I have made my decision as a way of saying yes to God’s present call and invitation, and not of saying no to what I have known and experienced in the Church of England, to which I owe such a deep debt.”

Source: Episcopal News

New Jersey Bishop Chip Stokes announces plans to retire in 2023

[Diocese of New Jersey] The Rt. Rev. William H. “Chip” Stokes, the 12th bishop of New Jersey, announcing Sept 2 his intent to retire in June 2023 and called for the election of his successor.

The Diocese of New Jersey has created a web page with all the latest news and resources about the process. The Standing Committee has general oversight responsibility for the election process and is working on retaining a consultant to advise committee members and the wider diocesan community.

Valaida Guerrero, a member of St. Andrew’s Church in New Providence and a trustee of the diocese, will serve as chair of the Episcopal Search and Nomination Committee for the election of the 13th bishop.

The following are some dates set so far in the process:

Sept. 26Each congregation will meet to nominate six people to attend a special Convocation Meeting. Congregations will report the names of their representatives to the dean of their convocation.

Oct. 24 Convocations will hold a special meeting to elect from the parish representatives one clergy and one lay person to be on the Bishop Search and Nomination Committee.

June 24, 2023 — The diocese will consecrate the 13th bishop of New Jersey.

Additional Online resources:

Home Page for the Election of the 13th Bishop of the Diocese

Bishop Stokes’ Letter to the Diocese

Standing Committee’s Letter to the Diocese

Canon 9 of the Diocese of New Jersey

Article XI on the Election of a Bishop

Source: Episcopal News

New Church of Ireland liturgy seeks to help children reflect on pandemic experiences

[Church of Ireland] The Liturgical Advisory Committee (LAC) of the Church of Ireland has published a resource for use in the church to help children to reflect on their experiences of the pandemic. The resource, entitled “A Service of Lamentation and Hope in the Context of a Pandemic Experience,” centers around the themes of lament and hope and is available at this link.

This resource may be used as an all–ages service in a parish context, in a school setting, or with a Sunday school. Through the use of psalms and a series of short Scripture readings, the service moves through themes of lament and hope, concluding with an act of renewal and commitment. It is intended to help create space for the whole church to acknowledge the losses that everyone within our communities, including children, have endured over the past months. Suggestions for creative and experiential prayer around the themes of lament, hope and renewal are included and may be adapted as needed to suit particular local contexts.

Read the entire article here.

Source: Episcopal News

Tennessee youth group finds a pandemic-safe mission repairing homes in their own backyard

Youth volunteers from the Episcopal Church of the Good Samaritan in Knoxville, Tennessee, paint a house as part of Operation Backyard. Photo: Sinead Doherty

[Episcopal News Service] An Episcopal youth group in Tennessee has made the most of pandemic-related limits on indoor gatherings and travel by helping to repair homes in their city. The youth group of the Episcopal Church of the Good Samaritan in Knoxville has partnered with Operation Backyard, a local nonprofit that repairs the homes of residents in need and takes its name from the mission of helping the poor “in your own backyard.”

It’s a partnership that benefits everyone involved on multiple levels, youth minister Sinead Doherty said. Clients who can’t afford necessary repairs get to keep their homes, and the parish teenagers learn valuable building skills and lessons about the realities of economic injustice. Beyond that, the program fosters personal connections and a sense of purpose, Doherty told Episcopal News Service.

Operation Backyard is a project of the Knoxville Leadership Foundation, a nondenominational Christian nonprofit that connects volunteers with urban improvement projects, mostly dealing with housing for low-income people. Operation Backyard leaders select projects suitable for inexperienced volunteers – such as building wheelchair ramps, painting or patching roofs – and walk the volunteers through the work.

Doherty has attended Good Samaritan since she was a girl and works part-time as the youth minister in addition to her full-time job as a trauma therapist. She saw in Operation Backpack the perfect opportunity to offer her 60 or so middle- and high schoolers.

Youth volunteers from Good Samaritan pose in front of a house they renovated. Photo: Sinead Doherty

“What they had to offer was exactly what I wanted for my youth,” she said. “It’s incredibly relational. You really get to know the people who are leading the volunteer day, as well as the families that you’re serving.”

She and some of the teenagers had a positive experience in 2019 building a wheelchair ramp for a woman who couldn’t get down the two flights of stairs in her public housing apartment. Then the pandemic hit. Suddenly, many of Operation Backyard’s usual volunteers – like college groups on spring break service trips, for example – couldn’t come. The Good Samaritan group was even more needed, and it was one of the few ways that they could gather safely.

Young volunteers build a ramp. Photo: Sinead Doherty

“I did not want to shut down my youth group, but we needed safe outdoor options,” Doherty told ENS. Even though most of the work was outdoors, much of it was done in masks “in the humidity down here in Tennessee in the summer, which is unreal. We were so happy to be able to do anything.”

The Good Samaritan group completed three projects in 2020 and two this year so far, with more to come in the fall. Usually 30 to 50 kids participate, some as young as fourth grade.

“It’s something my youth asked for,” Doherty said. “They want to go out and sweat in the heat doing manual labor because it means so much to them to connect with the homeowners and to connect with the amazing leadership from Operation Backyard.”

Young volunteers paint a house as part of Operation Backyard. Photo: Sinead Doherty

For some of the teens, it’s more than a group project; it’s a way for them to come into their own.

“One of my young men actually was so inspired by the work he was doing with Operation Backyard that he is pursuing construction and contractor licensure while he’s in high school,” Doherty told ENS. “And he’s hoping to serve with them once he gets out of high school and then take the skills he’s learned for a career.”

One 16-year-old loved it so much that she enlisted her school to do its own Operation Backyard day, Doherty added.

“She took what we had done and spearheaded it all on her own,” she said.

An Operation Backyard leader shows a young volunteer how to use a screw gun. Photo: Sinead Doherty

The most important thing about the program, Doherty emphasizes, is not the construction or leadership skills but the Christian missions of service and witness that it entails. Even small projects can be a godsend for clients, such as a family whose children would have been taken away by the state if they didn’t repair unsafe parts of their house, Doherty said. Clients are always treated with dignity as equal partners, but the volunteers become more aware of their own relative privilege.

“A lot of the kids I [work with] live in a very privileged part of town, and most of the clients we serve through Operation Backyard do not,” Doherty told ENS. “It’s been really wonderful to help my youth, in a very ethical way, get out into different parts of town and get to know people and build relationships with them.”

And there is plenty of work to be done. As of 2019, 24% of Knoxville residents live below the poverty line, including almost half of the city’s Black residents.

“Getting our kids getting out into the communities, they’re able to identify all of these different justice issues like food deserts and access to safe and affordable housing, and take home what they learn,” Doherty said. “It’s been so interesting to watch their faith tie into issues beyond just this one day or this one weekend.”

Not every church has a youth program as large or resourced as Good Samaritan, but Doherty recommends that other churches look to partner with similar nonprofits in their areas. They’re often looking for volunteers and eager to train them, so churches don’t need to start programs on their own.

“They’re here, they exist and we don’t have to re-create it,” Doherty said, “but, wow, it meets that need.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misnamed the parish. It is Good Samaritan, not Good Shepherd.

– Egan Millard is an assistant editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at emillard@episcopalchurch.org.

Source: Episcopal News

Episcopalians assess damage from Hurricane Ida, brace for extended power outages in Louisiana

[Episcopal News Service] Episcopalians and church leaders in the Diocese of Louisiana are bracing for extended power outages while assisting with emergency housing needs and widespread cleanup efforts as officials assess the damage from Hurricane Ida.

Ida made landfall Aug. 29 near Port Fourchon as a Category 4 hurricane, with winds reaching 150 mph and a coastal storm surge of up to 16 feet. In New Orleans, the levees held up, averting a disaster on the scale of Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall exactly 16 years earlier. The diocese reported minimal flooding damage at its churches, but Ida’s heavy wind and rain still packed a punch.

Hurricane Ida

A satellite image shows Hurricane Ida in the Gulf of Mexico and approaching the coast of Louisiana on Aug. 29. Photo: NOAA via Reuters

Some of the worst church damage was found at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Bayou Dularge, south of Houma. The storm ripped off large sections of the roof, and most of the church’s ceiling fell in, according to the Rev. Robert Beazley, the diocese’s disaster preparedness and response coordinator. At least eight other churches in the diocese sustained minor roof, window and water damage. Many churches were still without power on Sept. 1, along with hundreds of thousands of residential customers, though the utility Entergy announced it had restored power for some New Orleans customers.

“A lot of the electrical infrastructure is down for anywhere from a week to six weeks in [some] areas, so the lasting crisis of this hurricane is going to be helping evacuees,” Beazley told Episcopal News Service by phone from Tallahassee, Florida, where he is staying with relatives. “It’s one thing to be in a hotel for three days. It’s another thing to be there three weeks.”

After making landfall, Hurricane Ida weakened as it moved north. It was downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it reached southwest Mississippi early Aug. 30 and then began making a gradual northeast turn. Entergy reported about 830,000 power outages in Louisiana and 12,000 in Mississippi as of late Aug. 31.

The Diocese of Louisiana includes New Orleans, Baton Rouge and other communities in the southeast section of the state – the toes of the Louisiana boot. The Diocese of Western Louisiana, which includes the northern part of the state and southern communities as far east as Lafayette, was hit hard a year ago by Hurricane Laura. It dodged a direct hit from Ida, though the storm forced churches to cancel Sunday services as residents in some parts of the diocese were among those facing mandatory or voluntary evacuation orders.

Ida’s inland path cut through the middle of the Diocese of Mississippi, dumping as much as a foot of rain on some southern and coastal communities. Even so, that region fared better than expected, and churches there sustained no more than minor damage, according to the Rev. Scott Lenoir, the diocese’s disaster preparedness and response team coordinator.

“Full assessments will take place as soon as possible,” Lenoir told ENS by email.

The dioceses in the region are working with Episcopal Relief & Development to assess the needs of residents, especially evacuees, and provide financial relief as requested. The agency said in a news release that it has scheduled daily calls with local Episcopal leaders since last weekend. Episcopalians interested in helping are encouraged to contribute to the agency’s Hurricane Relief Fund.

“The anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, on top of COVID-19 and previous storms, contributed to the successive trauma felt by many in the South as Hurricane Ida made landfall,” said Katie Mears, senior director of Episcopal Relief & Development’s U.S. Disaster Program. “At this time, safety is a primary concern. We stand ready to help our partners as soon as it is safe to do so.”

The Rev. Shannon Duckworth, canon to the ordinary in the Diocese of Louisiana, checked in with about 50 clergy members via a Zoom meeting on Aug. 30, and she had another meeting scheduled for Sept. 1. The goal, Duckworth told ENS, was both to collect information on conditions at the diocese’s congregations and to provide pastoral support to local leaders. She also keeps in contact with those leaders by phone and text.

Most of those clergy members were subject to evacuation orders, she said, though they have worked to maintain contact with parishioners and determine how the churches can best help their members and local communities.

A deacon based in New Orleans is working to provide food and water for homeless individuals in the city, she said. The diocese’s Solomon Episcopal Conference Center in Loranger, north of New Orleans, opened its doors to evacuees and electrical crew members in need of temporary shelter. The Diocese of Western Louisiana and other neighboring dioceses have offered support and relief for the evacuees in their midst, Duckworth said.

Given the power outages’ uncertain duration in southeastern Louisiana, “short-term housing or just staying at home is not going to be feasible,” she said.

The diocese also has begun working with local church leaders to prepare insurance claims for damage to church buildings, Beazley said. In addition to the substantial damage to St. Andrew’s, water damage, mostly due to rain through broken windows and leaks in windows and roofs, was reported at several churches: St. John’s in Thibodaux, St. Mark’s in Harvey, Christ Episcopal Church in Slidell and three New Orleans churches: St. George’s, St. Paul’s and Trinity Episcopal Church. St. Augustine’s in Metairie sustained minor roof damage. The storm smashed the front glass doors at the Chapel of the Holy Spirit in New Orleans, causing some water damage.

“Know that each of you are in my prayers,” Louisiana Bishop Morris Thompson said in an Aug. 31 pastoral message to the diocese. “The road of recovery will be long, but I am certain of our strength and resiliency.”

In addition to his diocesan work, Beazley serves as rector at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Mandeville, on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. Hurricane Ida knocked down some trees on the church property, but they fell away from the buildings and caused no other damage.

The diocese is accepting donations to its hurricane relief fund, in addition to relying on the assistance that Episcopal Relief & Development is providing for evacuees.

“It’s amazing what a $100 debit card can do for a family,” Beazley said.

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.

Source: Episcopal News

EMM seeks churchwide support to provide warm welcome to Afghans in US


Afghans on Aug. 31 board a bus to be taken to a processing center after arriving at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Virginia. Photo: Reuters

[Episcopal News Service] The Episcopal Church has launched a fundraising campaign to support Episcopal Migration Ministries as it and other refugee resettlement agencies prepare to welcome and assist thousands of Afghans who fled their home country after the Taliban took control this month.

Episcopal Migration Ministries, or EMM, set an initial goal of raising $4 million, based on its estimate of the amount of money its affiliates will need to provide housing, clothing, legal assistance and other support to newly arrived Afghans for up to six months. Donations can be made online to the Neighbors Welcome: Afghan Allies Fund.

“The needs are great and will require our communities and congregations to come together to contribute financially, offer housing, volunteer and pray,” Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said Aug. 31 in a video message in which he backed such efforts. “You can also stay involved in the work of advocacy in ensuring that the government of the United States honors its commitments to our Afghan allies.”

The Episcopal Church is one of 88 faith organizations that signed an Aug. 30 letter to President Joe Biden asking him to commit the U.S. to welcoming and protecting “Afghans in need of refuge.” The church’s Washington-based Office of Government Relations has encouraged Episcopalians to press lawmakers to make it easier for Afghans to resettle in the U.S.

EMM also is inviting dioceses, congregations and individual Episcopalians to provide various nonmonetary support for the Afghan families, including volunteering and becoming community sponsors. A top priority is identifying temporary places for those Afghans to live, such as vacant church rectories and diocesan camps and conference centers. Individuals interested in offering housing or volunteering can complete EMM’s online form.

“The ministry of offering welcome to those fleeing violence is nothing less than God’s work — one that calls us to walk the way of love as Jesus of Nazareth taught us, through compassion, through practical care, showing to our newest neighbors that we are neighbors,” Curry said.

Afghanistan’s government fell to the Taliban on Aug. 15, expediting the U.S.’s end to its 20-year war in the country. The U.S. military completed its withdrawal on Aug. 30 after spending the past two weeks securing the airport in the capital, Kabul, to ensure Americans and fleeing Afghans had access to flights out of the country.

About 50,000 Afghans are being allowed into the U.S. under what is known as a humanitarian parole program, this one created as the crisis escalated in Afghanistan with the fall of the government.

The humanitarian parole program is separate from the refugee resettlement program that EMM and eight other agencies facilitate on behalf of the State Department, though the agencies plan to provide services to these Afghans similar to the services they have provided since 1980 through the refugee resettlement program. Those services include English language and cultural orientation classes, employment services, school enrollment, and initial assistance with housing and transportation.

EMM and the other resettlement agencies already have helped resettle some Afghans through the government’s special immigrant visa program, which is open to people who fear persecution for their work in support of the U.S. government.

The parole program is intended to accommodate others arriving amid the recent crisis in Afghanistan who do not yet have legal residency status. Once in the U.S., some may be able to apply for special immigrant visas, while others will apply for asylum, said Allison Duvall, EMM’s senior manager for church relations and engagement.

The Afghans will receive just enough financial support from the federal government to begin their lives in this country, Duvall told Episcopal News Service. Until they qualify for special immigrant visas or asylum, they will not be eligible for government benefits or the kind of longer-term financial support that is available to families who are part of the refugee resettlement program, Duvall said.

Short time frames pose another challenge. Refugee resettlement agencies typically have weeks and months, if not years, to prepare for the families they are welcoming, Duvall said. With the Afghans, some may arrive with less than a day’s notice, providing little time to arrange for housing. This has added to the urgency of EMM’s efforts as it works with its affiliates.

“Everyone’s saying that we’ve never seen anything like this before,” Duvall said.

Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston, an EMM affiliate in the Diocese of Texas, has received 50 Afghans in the past month, an unprecedented number, according to Ali Al Sudani, the agency’s chief programs officer. Those individuals arrived with special immigrant visas. More are expected soon through the parole program.

“These are individuals who supported us [in Afghanistan], and now it’s our role to support them,” Sudani told ENS.

Sudani, who came to the U.S. as an Iraqi refugee in 2009, said Interfaith Ministries is working with its faith-based partners, including Episcopal congregations, to marshal resources to provide a warm welcome to the Afghans. In just one day, supporters responded to an online wish list by sending nearly 200 packages with household items, he said, from towels and pillows to TVs and microwaves.

The organization also has launched a public awareness campaign – partly to generate material support but also to educate the community about who these new neighbors are and why they are here. The community’s response so far has been overwhelmingly positive, he said.

“In my work here with Interfaith Ministries, I’ve never seen such a response of support to any refugee groups before,” he said.

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.

Source: Episcopal News