Episcopal congregations, ministries to observe World Refugee Day with events, special worship services

By Shireen Korkzan
Posted Jun 19, 2024

Congolese refugees Jeanine Balezi, an intensive-case manager for Refugee Focus, left, and Namughisha Nashimwe, pose for a photo in Nashimwe’s apartment in Tucson, Arizona. Photo: Lynette Wilson/ENS

[Episcopal News Service] June 20 marks World Refugee Day, and Episcopal congregations worldwide are observing with various events, including educational presentations and interfaith gatherings.

World Refugee Day was established in 2001 in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, a United Nations multilateral treaty that designated who is a refugee. It also established the rights of asylum-seekers and set out the responsibilities of countries that grant asylum. Asylum-seekers are people seeking protection from persecution or violence but haven’t yet been legally recognized as refugees.

Asylum-seekers and refugees leave their homes for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to war, violence and persecution over race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. As of Oct. 31, 2023, the most recent figures available, nearly 1.06 million people have open asylum claims in the United States, and the federal government’s backlog exceeded 10 million applications in 2023.

The Episcopal Church’s Episcopal Migration Ministries is one of 10 refugee resettlement agencies in the United States. In 2023, EMM launched the Rainbow Initiative to help bring attention to the special needs of LGBTIQ+ migrants who not only face persecution, discrimination and violence in their home countries, but also often in the countries where they seek asylum and resettlement. Many Episcopal parishes work closely with EMM to help support migrants locally.

Episcopalians can learn more about The Episcopal Church’s long history of advocating for comprehensive immigration reform here. Episcopalians interested in learning more about the church’s advocacy efforts can visit the Episcopal Public Policy Network’s website.

The following is a list of some Episcopal ministries, affiliates, dioceses and parishes hosting World Refugee Day events. Check online for additional events in your area. All events listed are free and open to the public unless otherwise specified. All times are local.

NationwideReligions for Peace, an international coalition of representatives from different religions, including The Episcopal Church, will host a webinar, “Welcoming the Other: Strengthening Advocacy and Action for Refugees and Other Forcibly Displaced Communities,” on June 20 from 9-10:30 a.m. Eastern. Various faith leaders will discuss refugee advocacy and peacebuilding efforts, as well as the empowerment of women and youth refugees.

Auburn, Washington — Between noon and 3 p.m. Pacific at the William C. Warren Building in Auburn, Washington, the Diocese of Olympia’s Refugee Resettlement Office and the Lutheran Community Services will host an educational presentation addressing how refugees come to the United States. The presentation will also provide information about refugees who have settled in Washington and about local refugee businesses. Cultural arts and crafts will be available for purchase.

Lancaster, PennsylvaniaSt. James Episcopal Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, is teaming up with partner organizations, including Church World Service Lancaster, to host a Dinner for a Difference interfaith gathering on June 20 at 5 p.m. Eastern. During the dinner at St. James, refugees will share their migration stories and reflect on the forced migration crisis. The event requires a $35 registration fee. Participants will have an opportunity to connect with others and listen to more migration stories after dinner.

Manitowoc, Wisconsin — On June 23, St. James Episcopal Church in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, will include special prayers and songs for refugees, as well as a litany on welcoming the stranger, during its 10 a.m. Central worship service. The Rev. Brian Straude, the church’s rector, told ENS that St. James’ goal with the refugee-oriented service is to help raise awareness of the ongoing worldwide refugee crisis.

Jamestown, New York — The New Neighbors Coalition, a network of volunteers dedicated to welcoming new migrants to Jamestown, New York, will host a World Refugee Day celebration on June 22 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Eastern. The celebration “will serve as a platform for dialogue, cultural celebration and artistic expressions from around the world.” It will include tables with information about local community organization, as well as handmade items from India for purchase. St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Jamestown houses the New Neighbors Coalition.

-Shireen Korkzan is a reporter and assistant editor for Episcopal News Service based in northern Indiana. She can be reached at skorkzan@episcopalchurch.org.