Toward the end of 2015, as the civil war in Syria escalated, a number of St. Peter’s parishioners began asking whether our church might play some role in helping families who were fleeing this violent conflict. In early 2016, a group of more than 20 parishioners gathered to consider various ways that our parish could get involved in supporting refugee families. After several meetings, our Refugee Task Force had reached clarity and consensus on several issues. After learning more about the global refugee crisis, we decided that we were open to supporting refugees from anywhere in the world and from any religious background, since there are over 65 million forcibly displaced persons from all around the world. We also decided that we wanted to do more than just collect supplies or volunteer our time individually; we decided that we want to build a deeper relationship between our congregation and a particular refugee family by supporting them through the entire resettlement process and their acclimation to life in the United States. This kind of relationship is known as co-sponsorship.
In the spring of 2016, the Task Force began working with Lutheran Children and Family Services, one of several refugee resettlement agencies in Philadelphia, and we initiated our preparations to co-sponsor a refugee family. Unfortunately, we soon received notice that LCFS would be closing its doors due to insufficient funding. As a result, we had to go back to the drawing board to find a new agency with whom to partner. After extensive conversation with the other three resettlement agencies operating in Philadelphia, we decided that we could best collaborate with HIAS Pennsylvania. HIAS Pennsylvania is a Jewish organization (formerly known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) that does an exemplary job of resettling refugees from all ethnic, cultural, and religious backgrounds.
On September 11th at 10 AM, you are invited to come and meet with a representative from HIAS to learn more about their work with refugees and to learn more about the next steps as St. Peter’s moves toward co-sponsoring a refugee family. There will be many ways for you to be involved. We will soon be forming a small “Welcoming Committee” that will work closely with HIAS and that will communicate regularly with the parish. The Welcoming Committee will coordinate the collection of in-kind donations (especially furnishings and household goods) and will organize parishioners who want to volunteer their time as well. There will be many opportunities to volunteer, including possibilities such as childcare and language tutoring, help with grocery shopping, clothes shopping, navigating public transit, enrolling children in school, applying for jobs, and much more. In addition to volunteering in these particular ways, we also want to build a relationship of friendship and advocacy with the family we’ll be welcoming, and there will be many opportunities for informal connection as well.
Learn more the the experiences of one co-sponsoring church in Austin, Texas by watching this short video: https://vimeo.com/39646777
In addition to providing in-kind donations and volunteering our time, St. Peter’s is also committing to supplementing the financial resources of the family we are co-sponsoring during their initial months in the United States. During the summer of 2016, the Vestry generously approved $6,000 to support refugee resettlement, with a portion coming from the Peggy Anderson Outreach Fund. These funds will help us assist with the huge range of expenses that refugees face during their initial months in the United States. Each refugee receives only $925 upon their arrival, and for a family of three, this is barely enough to rent a habitable apartment (which usually requires first month’s rent, last month’s rent, and a security deposit). While refugees are sometimes eligible for additional governmental support, the costs of rent, food, clothing, and other necessities almost always exceed the support received. The funds approved by the Vestry will enable St. Peter’s to help fill the gaps while the adults in the family we’ll be co-sponsoring begin intensive language-learning and/or applying for jobs.