From the communities of All Souls Episcopal Church in Washington D.C., St. John’s Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square, and St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Arlington, VA:
“As the Afghan refugee crisis escalated in August 2021, three Episcopal parishes in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area each separately felt God’s call to help.
All Souls Episcopal Church had experience supporting two Afghan refugee families several years ago, seeing the families through many challenges as they moved toward independence with solid jobs and home ownership. St. John’s, Lafayette Square, had similarly helped refugees, and parishioners wanted to do more. A long-ago college friendship between members of these two parishes led to discussion of collaboration. A third parish, St. Mary’s, Arlington, was added to the discussion due to previous contacts between their clergy and members of St. John’s. St. Mary’s, located in the heart of Arlington, Virginia, has a long track record of social service and outreach. Arlington was an appealing place to locate a new refugee family due to the rich social service environment and the higher cost of housing in urban Washington, D.C., where All Souls and St. John’s are located.
With enthusiastic clergy support, representatives from of all three parishes formed a steering committee made up of three members from each parish. Embry Howell, a member of All Souls Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. notes, “We decided to work with Episcopal Migration Ministries’ Neighbor to Neighbor program, to pursue the Sponsor Circles option (https://www.sponsorcircles.org), a new program set up by the U.S. State Department to streamline the resettlement process for recent Afghan refugee arrivals. With training and support from EMM, we, as part of the application process, organized six “teams” (Education, Employment, Health and Human Services, Housing, Legal and Financial Services, and Welcoming). Each parish took on the leadership for two of the teams. The most immediate task, once the application was submitted, was to secure housing, preferably in Arlington. With funds donated by members of one of the parishes, we identified and rented a three-bedroom apartment in Arlington, located near good schools, many needed social services, and public transportation.”
The three parishes jointly furnished the apartment with donated and purchased items, and luckily it was available just in time to welcome our new family of five, composed of a father, mother and three children ages 6, 3, and 10 months. The family was welcomed by 1-2 members from each parish, as well as the father of one of the families that All Souls had previously supported (jointly with two other parishes in Washington, D.C. several years ago). He was able to greet the family in their own language, and his wife prepared an Afghan meal for them to have on their first day in their new apartment. The family’s oldest child was quickly enrolled in kindergarten by the education team’s leader, who had taught in the same school during her career. Parish volunteers also assisted the family in quickly applying for Medicaid, SNAP, WIC, and TANF benefits, and were pleased with the authorities’ prompt response. In addition, the father had sufficient English-language skills to enroll in Arlington’s food bank, enabling his family to receive a weekly food box to supplement the other benefits.
The education team also enrolled the father in intensive English language classes that will meet all morning for several weeks beginning in mid-April. This was recommended by his employment counselor at a local non-profit, Samaritan Ministry. During this period (the first six weeks), the legal/financial team worked with the family to obtain identity documents (at the time of this writing all employment certification documents have been received, but only four of the Social Security cards have arrived). They also worked on developing a budget for the project that takes into account all the donations from all three parishes (now at about $20,000 with another $15,000 expected soon).
“I am excited to see this initiative that works across three parishes. As we know, a lot of the times parishes like to stay in their own little lane, and so to see the coming together of three parishes in a cooperative way is fabulous, and also that this is a lay-led effort! I’m the priest at All Souls, but it was not my idea or anything, it was people coming to me saying ‘hey, this is going on, we want to proceed’ and keeping me in the loop. But it was really showing what exactly we expect in the notion that all members of the church are ministers, whether they’re lay or ordained. This came about through active, well-organized, lay-led ministry, and it’s a great example of the ministry of all the baptized.”
– The Rev. Julianne Buenting, Interim Rector at All Souls Episcopal Church, D.C. [podcast Audio]
Previous experience supporting families led the teams to understand the necessity of a reserve fund—given the very high cost of rent in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area and the eventual likely need for a car for employment in the suburbs. The budget will be for the overall project and the family, taking into account government benefits and the father’s eventual employment. This team is also working with pro bono immigrant lawyers who are members of St. John’s to obtain permanent residency for the family. Finally, one or two welcoming events are planned for the spring or early summer, to introduce the family to members of our parishes.”
- Visit https://episcopalmigrationministries.org/neighbortoneighbor/ to start the Discernment Phase for sponsorship, and attend an Information Session (Tuesday evenings at 7pm ET.)
- Visit welcome.us/sponsor to learn more about available sponsorship opportunities
- Visit sponsorcircles.org
- Listen to the full conversation with the Tri-Parish Team: https://episcopalmigrationministries.org/s6-ep6-better-together-three-episcopal-churches-tri-parish-sponsor-circle/