On October 15 – 16, the Collegeville Institute Rural Minnesota Fellows met to discuss immigration in their communities and learn from local experts. A panel of immigrants, all active in their local churches, spoke of their efforts to get parishes to welcome immigrants and make them feel a vital part of the congregation. One noted: “We just want our pastor to spend a little time with our families.”
Allison Liuzzi, Director of Minnesota Compass, presented an overview of immigration in Minnesota, pointing out that Minnesota ranks among the top ten states with the largest number of refugee arrivals on a per capita basis. She also noted that immigrants accounted for most of Minnesota’s population growth since 2010, and that employers are increasingly dependent upon immigrant labor to fill work needs.
Sylvie Bisangwa from the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota commented on the Trump Administration’s recent announcement about the Public Charge Rule change. It means that immigrants’ use of public benefits (e.g., Medicaid, SNAP, public housing) may have a negative impact on their application for Permanent Legal Residency status.
Joan Ellison from Pelican Rapids shared stories about how her community has worked to build bridges to the diverse immigrant and refugee populations in the area.
Following these presentations, the Fellows spent a second day reflecting on what they had heard and drawing out the theological and pastoral implications. They noted how much fear surrounds this issue as it plays out in smaller cities and rural communities throughout Minnesota – parishioners’ fear that immigrants are forcing them to become a different congregation, and immigrants’ fear that they will not be accepted as full members of their churches and communities.
The Fellows shared ideas on how to bring together two very different world views: that of old time parishioners, and that of immigrants new to this congregation. They questioned how they might help build one church consisting of local generational residents as well as immigrants and refugees who are from Myanmar, South Sudan, Mexico, and so many other parts of the world.