On June 19, I attended a Eucharist in observance of World Refugee Day officiated by the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop and Primate of The Episcopal Church. It was a moving service, made more so by the presence of a recently arrived Iraqi family who had lived for eight years in a refugee camp in Jordan before relocating to the United States with the support of Episcopal Migration Ministries.
In her homily, the Presiding Bishop spoke powerfully about the physical and spiritual importance of “home” and about the refugee’s journey, indeed each of our journeys, to live in peace “in a community that will care that we exist.” She ended her comments as follows:
What does home smell like to you? What does it feel like? It shouldn’t smell of blood, or cordite, or fear. It should feel like a warm embrace that says the life of this wanderer matters. It should say, you belong here, and we will help to make this a home big enough to give you a place and meaning and hope and peace.
Her words made me reflect on my years as a teacher, divisional director, and school head. I wondered about whether and when each student, faculty and staff member, or parent had felt that “warm embrace that says the life of this wandered matters.” I wondered whether, as teachers or as a whole faculty or administration, we had made our school “big enough” to give those in it “a place and meaning and hope and peace.” I wondered about when this had been made real or fallen short—personally, collectively, and institutionally.
I am always taken aback and deeply saddened when I hear adults, too many adults, talk with disdain about their school days. Clearly they were not known or understood. They did not feel connected or embraced. They could not wait to get out and are happy those days are behind them. Which of our students will say that of us?
This is not to imply that every day can be happy or that there will be no struggle. But it does imply that through all of the inevitable and even necessary ups and downs there is an abiding sense of being safe, known, cared for, and cared about. Of belonging. Of being “home” and “at home” in the school community.
We are merely human—our care will be imperfect. But thankfully we have afresh chance each new school year to make our classrooms and our schools the spiritual home that all children, and each of us, so want and need. This year, how can we make that a reality?
Click here for the full text of the World Refugee Day homily by the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori.
Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM) works through a network of local affiliate offices in collaboration with other faith-based and secular agencies to carry out a national program of refugee resettlement through a public-private partnership with the U.S. government. Refugees are received from all parts of the world and sponsorship is offered without regard to national origin, race, or religion.
EMM relies on the work of volunteer and on parishes who sponsor a refugee family. Children often accompany their parents as refugees, and schools can be potent partners with parishes or social service agencies to support a refugee family’s transition to the United States.
If you are interested in connecting with a local agency or parish in your community that is actively involved in refugee resettlement, or are interested in worship resources on refugees, visit the EMM Web site.