Pastor preaches support for DREAM Act

10/3/2011

A UMNS Report
By Kathy L. Gilbert*

Oct. 3, 2011 | FAIRMONT, W. Va. (UMNS)

United Methodist churches are among the more than 350 churches nationwide holding DREAM Sabbath observances from Sept. 16- Oct.9. A UMNS file photo courtesy of Rising Hope United Methodist Mission Church.

When the Rev. Mary Ellen Finegan of Central United Methodist Church stood up to preach on a recent Sunday, she knew her message would be controversial with some members.

She spoke in support of the DREAM Act, a bipartisan bill that would provide a path to citizenship for some undocumented youth.

Central’s Sept. 25 service is counted among the more than 350 DREAM Sabbath observances taking place in 45 U.S. states Sept. 16 through Oct. 9. A diverse array of faith communities and DREAM-eligible youth are uniting in this national effort to urge Congress to pass the DREAM Act.

As Finegan shook hands with congregants after service, she said she was pleased to receive affirmations of support from people who previously had opposed the DREAM Act. “Thanks for explaining the difference between the DREAM Act and amnesty,” one told her.

Another told her: “Well, if the DREAM Act is really the way you presented it, with all these facts, I am for it! Who wouldn't want children who grew up with our children to have the same rights that citizenship can afford?”

The DREAM Act would allow some undocumented immigrant students the opportunity to earn legal status if they came to the United States as children, are long-term U.S. residents, have good moral character and complete two years of college or military service. Last year the bill was five votes short of passage in the U.S. Senate.

The Rev. John L. McCullough, a United Methodist pastor and director of Church World Service, said, “Our daughters are the same age as many of the young people who would benefit from the DREAM Act – an educated generation of promising immigrant students who have demonstrated a commitment to hard work. They consider the United States their home and want to contribute their talents to this country. They are a vital and valuable asset to this nation.”

Many DREAM Sabbath events will feature undocumented young people who would benefit from the DREAM Act.

DREAMer Lupe was among speakers Sept. 25 at Meridian Street United Methodist Church in Indianapolis. Brought to the United States as a small child, she spoke English fluently by the third grade and excelled in her studies through eighth grade. Then she found out that she was undocumented.

“It was heartbreaking,” Lupe said. “I started freshman year. My grades were really bad. I didn’t think there was a point of trying.” She failed three classes. But during her sophomore year, she got involved with the Latino Youth Collective, and when she learned about the DREAM Act, she began to have hope again.

Mercedes Gonzalez displays an armband reading, “Stop Deporting DREAMers.” She is one of 2 million young people who would be eligible to apply for citizenship if the DREAM Act becomes law. Photo courtesy of Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition.

“My goal is to become a social worker,” she said. “I love helping people. I don’t know how long it is going to take, but eventually I will get there. The DREAM Act would really help.”

Meridian Street’s DREAM Sabbath service also featured a selection of Bible passages, with the reader noting, “Welcoming the stranger is the most repeated commandment in the Old Testament with the exception of the command to worship God.”

Guest preacher Bill Mefford, a director at the United Methodist Board of Church and Society in Washington, warned against reducing people to such labels as “illegal.” Instead, we need to listen to people’s whole story – then engage in the story, he said.

DREAM Sabbath is being organized by the Interfaith Immigration Coalition, in partnership with the United We Dream Network – the grassroots movement of undocumented immigrant youth, and longtime DREAM Act champion and sponsor, U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois. The United Methodist Church is a member of the Interfaith Immigration Coalition.

Information on organizing a DREAM Sabbath observance is available at www.dreamsabbath.org .

*This story is from Church World Service.

*Gilbert is a multimedia reporter for the young adult content team at United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn. Vicki Brown, associate editor and writer, Office of Interpretation, United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, contributed to this story.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org .