Who Belongs Here? Exploring Immigration with Children and Youth

Many UU congregations are looking for help in engaging children and youth with immigration justice issues. In February, the UUA will publish a four-session curriculum for children. With this post, we publish an annotated list of websites and books about immigration compiled by religious educator Karen Scrivo as a course project at Starr King School for the Ministry. In this post, she introduces her project-  Ed.

When my Italian grandparents came to the United States as children during the early 1900s, they and their parents arrived at Ellis Island without papers, passports or visas. My grandma Rose Siciliano was about 7 and my grandpa Louis Scrivo was 12. Their families made the long arduous trans-Atlantic journey to escape the harsh poverty that gripped southern Italy.  They came knowing no English and with dreams of finding a better life in America.

Their stories are similar to those of many of today’s immigrants – except then there were no quotas for how many Europeans could enter the United States.  So their undocumented status did not brand them as “illegal aliens,” nor did they constantly look over their shoulders, worrying they might be deported.  Had they been coming from Mexico, they would have not have encountered high barbed wire fences or been detained or turned back by menacing border patrols.

My grandparents went to school, learned English and later met and married in Freeport, Pennsylvania.  A carpenter, my grandfather built a house and also worked in the coal mines near Pittsburgh. My grandmother sometimes worked as a seamstress for a local department store.  They raised three sons – my father Bill and his older brother Bob and younger brother, Vic and lived to see their many grandchildren. (more…)

“When a Stranger Sojourns with You in Your Land…”

This is one in a series of posts exploring the wisdom Jewish and Christian scripture and tradition offer as we strive to faithfully respond to immigration issues.  This post was written by Shawna Foster, student minister at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Topeka, Kansas. It first appeared in the congregation’s newsletter- Ed.

I recently started to volunteer at VIDA Ministries on Monday nights. VIDA is a outreach ministry sponsored by 12 Presbyterian congregations in the Topeka, Kansas that provides free volunteer-led programs and activities for Spanish-speaking immigrants, including an ESL class along with homework tutoring and nursery for participants’ children. I  built their new website  and included a biblical quote at the bottom. It’s Leviticus 19:33, and clearly puts forth a call to care for the immigrants in our midst.

When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

The director of VIDA was totally surprised to learn that this instruction is in the Bible. I was surprised that he was surprised – wasn’t the call to care for the stranger who sojourns in your land the whole reason VIDA was a ministry of these churches? (more…)

Introducing … “The Journey Toward Phoenix” on blogtalkradio

I am pleased to be a guest speaker for this exciting new project organized by Rev. Carlton Elliot Smith of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, VA.  Here’s a chance to do some “cooking together” on immigration justice issues using talk radio as a medium- ed.

What if we could have a live national conversation among Unitarian Universalists about our Justice General Assembly this June? What if we could learn in real-time about what other congregations across the country were doing to address “Immigration as a Moral Issue”? What if there was an audio forum where UUs could be in dialogue with leaders in our movement about how to prepare for this unique gathering in our 50+ years of history?

It’s all happening, starting this Saturday, January 7, 4:00pm-5:00pm EST. Welcome to “The Journey Toward Phoenix”, an internet-based talk-radio program originating from the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, Virginia. Each week, the program will provide a platform to showcase what local congregations are doing regarding the immigration issue in their communities, as well as providing information about resources available from the UUA as we look toward our Justice General Assembly in Phoenix, June 20-24. Leaders in our association will share experiences, plans, and details as they develop, and listeners will be able to call-in live to ask questions of our guests.

Among the topics we expect to cover over the next six months are youth involvement in Justice GA, the DREAM Act, Secure Communities, the emerging detention industrial complex, UU curricula and resources regarding immigration, participating in Justice GA on a budget, our public witness in Phoenix, and working with community partners.

This week’s topic is “Immigration as a Moral Issue.” The program will feature Marilyn Baker and Sarah Bazzi, co-conveners of the Immigration Working Group at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, Virginia, in the first half-hour. In the second half-hour, we welcome Gail Forsyth-Vail, Adult Programs Director at the Unitarian Universalist Association (and editor of this blog!). Listen in to the conversation this and every Saturday from 4 -5 PM Eastern. There’s a phone number on blogtalkradio page so you can pose a question of our guests or contribute a comment.

Looking forward to greeting you on the radio as “The Journey Toward Phoenix” becomes reality!


Rev. Carlton Elliott Smith is a Team Minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, VA. Throughout 2010-2011, much of his attention is going toward the congregational/denominational focus on justice for immigrants and their families.

Taking Jesus Seriously

This is another in a series of posts exploring the wisdom Jewish and Christian scripture and tradition offer as we strive to faithfully respond to immigration issues.  This is an excerpt from Rev. Lucinda Duncan’s  sermon, “Taking Jesus Seriously,” preached  at Follen Church Society in Lexington, MA on December 19, 2010- Ed.

In the Gospels, Jesus says:

Blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.

A more accurate translation would have said, Blessed are the destitute…

What is this all about?  Was as Jesus saying that God actually blessed the destitute, the beggars? Was Jesus simply a romantic charismatic liberalwho thought everyone could be taken in and fed?

"Mary and Joseph Welcome" at Occupy Unitarian Universalist Church of Medford, MA

The reality is that Jesus was saying that God blessed the destitute, the beggars, because they were the poor who had then hit hard times.  After struggling to eke out a basic minimum living, they were crushed by debt, disease, or drought and could no longer make a living.  They needed to beg on the streets to gather enough coins to put some food into the mouths of their children.  Now let me just say: We know these people. In modern times these are the people who, in desperation, pay a year’s wage to a mafia coyote for the opportunity to risk life and limb to be transported illegally into the United States.  Once here these are the people who are hired by major corporations to pick crops for substandard wages, to pluck chickens for fast food chains, or to wait around in groups on empty city corners to see if someone might drive by to offer them a single day’s wage.

Do you get what I’m talking about here?  Yes, it’s our immigration issue, and it’s not going away.  Yes, I’m saying that the people Jesus would call blessed by God are these very people, the undocumented immigrants carted into the United States by crime rings who care not a whit for the life or safety of any of their recruits and who are now the cause for such a ruckus in states like Arizona who believes every undocumented immigrant is a criminal trespasser.

If we are to take the words and the actions of Jesus seriously, we need to look at and listen to the needs of the poor, the undocumented, and the impoverished in this nation.  We have the resources to do this.  We used to have the heart. Could listening to what Jesus had to say, and how he lived his life, help us to realize hope and dignity must be supported somewhere, by someone or some people?  Does listening to the words and looking at the life of Jesus change any of your minds about our immigration issues, about the minor actions — like the DREAM Act – that could possibly affect some of those in the right age group to win legal approval from the land in which they were raised?  Can we bring ourselves to see what is morally relevant about Jesus’ philosophy and work together to provide hope and dignity to those who are settling this land?  How seriously do we want to take Jesus?


Rev. Lucinda Duncan is Minister Emerita of the Follen Church Society, Lexington, Massachusetts.

All-Church Christmas Pageant: Las Posadas

This begins a series of posts exploring the wisdom Christian and Jewish scripture and tradition offer as we strive to respond faithfully to immigration justice issues. The Unitarian Universalist Church of Birmingham, AL, presented a Christmas pageant using elements from the Spanish celebration of Las Posadas to highlight the experience of seekers of refuge and a new start throughout the ages and in our own time.- Ed.

The pageant begins:

READER #1 (SHEPHERD): There are many ways to commemorate Christmas. One of them, common in the Spanish traditions in the Southwest, is Las Posadas. The Inns. In some places this is done for nine nights preceding Christmas, in others nine houses are visited in a single night, or nine rooms in a building.  A procession led by figures of Mary and Joseph, the parents-to-be of the infant Jesus, goes from place to place, searching for an inn in which to stay.

READER #2 (WISE PERSON): At the time of Caesar Augustus, a census was ordered. Everyone was required to travel to their own home town to be registered. So Joseph traveled from where he lived in Nazareth to his ancestral home in Bethlehem. His betrothed, Mary, accompanied him on the journey despite the fact that she was pregnant.

READER #3 (SHEPHERD): Scripture tells us that when they arrived in Bethlehem, they had difficulty finding lodging in the crowded town and finally had to settle for an animals’ stable. It was there that the road-weary parents gave birth to their first-born child, and made a bed for him in the hay of the animals’ feeding trough because there were no better accommodations. (more…)

Connecting the Dreamers with Dr. King

In this post, Rev. Carlton Elliott Smith writes about how he put together a service for Martin Luther King Sunday that explored the dreams of undocumented immigrant youth and connected them with the dream of Dr. King. Perhaps you might consider doing something similar in your own community.– ed.

This time last year, I wondered what to do about the Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday worship service. Naturally, I was thinking about his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech. At the same time, I was among the many immigrant advocates hoping for the passage of the  Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which would have provided a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrant youth and young adults brought to the United States by their parents as minors. Then it came to me: What about doing a service that would bring together Dr. King’s Dream and the dreams of the Dreamers? The idea for the service, “Dreamers and the Dream” was born. The title comes from the song “Here’s to Life”. The version of it I know and love best is sung by the late Shirley Horn:

Here’s to life / and the joy it brings

Here’s to life / to dreamers and their dreams (more…)

Grace and Gratitude

With thanks to the Rev. Sonya Sukalski for this post! -ed.

We accept life’s gifts with grace and gratitude and use them to bless the world.

This piece of the chalice lighting often heard at Starr King School for the Ministry is an easy sentiment to connect to at Thanksgiving. Through the jostling at the dinner table about who says “Grace” and prodding about every person present voicing their gratitude, we try to reconnect to the abundance of harvest time.  “Grace” as a word for what we do before a meal (sometimes, perhaps not often enough) has not always retained its meaning as something we enjoy but did not earn.

The apple tree in my back yard reminds me of this and opens doors to the joy of our interdependence. I have to pause to thank the woman who planted and nurtured the tree.  I have to thank the workers who laid pipe and keep water flowing so that in times of drought, it was able to have life-sustaining liquid.  I ponder the first people to try apples (Eve and Adam?), and know apples were good food. I do very little to this tree- I trim off the branches that break due to the weight of the apples, try to pare back the blossoms or tiny apples so that the branches don’t break, and then sit back and enjoy the shade.  Hopefully taking time to notice the beauty of the fruit growing, and praying that I notice when the apples are ready to harvest.  In the harvest, I am always limited by the time, help and imagination for products or recipes.  There are always more apples than I know what to do with.  Seeing this abundance connects me to grace, and helps me appreciate a world of plenty. (more…)

Training the Next Generation of UU Social Justice Leaders

The Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of California (UULMCA) is paying attention to training the next generation of UU Social Justice leaders.  This fall, they launched a 10-month internship program for passionate, idealistic, and entrepreneurial young adult leaders. Under the direction of Rev. Sonya Sukalski, the program aims to build leaders who are healthy in spirit, mind, and body. They will engage with current campaigns and leaders while also discovering how to sustain a lifelong commitment to social justice via theological reflection, community building and personal spiritual practice. The SALT program flyer invites you to follow adventures of this year’s 16 SALT Fellows on the website of the UULMCA, and to look for them at Justice GA in Phoenix!

Modeling Multigenerational Learning and Service

The UUA Mid-South District’s Annual Healthy Congregations Conference focused on Immigration as a Moral Issue.

This  multigenerational conference, presented on October 8, 2011 had a number of tracks, including political, congregational, and social media responses.  The multigenerational faith development track included reflection, an immersion experience field trip and an introduction to a long-term social justice project. For a project, the District has planned a mobile library of bilingual children’s books to be located near an indoor playground. Pat Kahn reports on the multigenerational track written for the Mid-South Faith Development Council. 

Plaza Fiesta!

As part of the Mid-South District Healthy Congregations Conference hosted by Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta on Saturday October 8th, 14 people (5 children ages 6-9, 1 infant, and 8 adults) participated in a multigenerational workshop and field trip.  In the morning session, all ages heard the keynote address by Jerry Gonzalez, Executive Director of GALEO, followed by a workshop during which UUCA member Laura Murvartian (helped by her children Claudia and Nicolas Murvartian-Rhim) shared her own immigration story. (more…)