By Rev. Dr. Bob Lee
After serving a suburban congregation in northeast Richmond, Virginia for more than 16 years, God’s call led my family and me to south Richmond in March 2015 where I now serve as senior pastor of Huguenot Road Baptist Church (HRBC).
Within my first year as pastor, I received an invitation to participate in an interfaith network, the Bon Air Interfaith Trialogue. The first meeting I attended was over lunch with faith leaders from the Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities in early 2016. This was, as you may recall, during the presidential campaign where fear seemed to be one of the dominating themes.
Since then, a number of our staff, parishioners and I have had the privilege of engaging alongside our neighbors in the Trialogue, whose purpose is:
- To build better relationships between the Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities based in Bon Air area and surroundings.
- To build trust and familiarity through regular meetings and sharing food.
- To start a public conversation among the three traditions about religious life, theology, scripture and revelation.
- To join together for a community service project.
We have sought to find common ground and to serve our community together.
Yes, we have differences. But as fellow children of Abraham, we find community, fellowship and hope as we serve our community. Involvement in this network has helped me to put a name and a face to those whom some encourage us to fear. My first visit to the Islamic Center of Richmond came with smiles, warm greetings and an offering of sweet dates to eat.
As Christians, we are called to love God and to love neighbor (Mark 12:30-31). Knowing that we are citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20), our staff and I have worked to keep our congregation focused on the big picture and not small politics. To this end, over the last two years our congregation has been studying themes related to God’s Kingdom and the Beloved Community. Rev. Matthew Hensley, our pastor of Discipleship and Missions, has been actively involved in this vision to educate and equip our people.
Sometimes it has been overt. We have offered sermon series’ such as “Fear Not,” “Being Neighbor,” and “Christ’s Love Compels Us” (from CBF Virginia). Earlier this year, our Winter Bible Study was based on the CBF Virginia material, “Beloved Community.”
We continue to offer our annual “Touched Twice Clinic” mission to our community. God has used the clinic to lead us toward a growing awareness of and relationship with the refugees in our community and in greater Richmond. This September, refugees from Afghanistan, Syria and Sudan were served through the clinic.
Sometimes the education is just under the surface—like our focus on the parables of Jesus found in Matthew (fall 2017 Lectionary texts) and our focus on overcoming fear and control. Jesus’ love compels us to love our neighbor, not to see them as “those people” and keep them at an arm’s length.
To help provide accurate information and education on immigration, migration, refugees and asylum seekers, we invited Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Greg and Sue Smith to lead a five-part seminar on Wednesday nights this fall called “A Christian Response to Immigration.”
Greg wrote the following series overview:
Our Christian faith is rooted in the stories of ancient immigrants, from Abraham and Sarah to Jesus himself. Our country is a nation of immigrants comprised of women and men from all countries, all economic and social classes, and all walks of life. Yet surprisingly—or perhaps not—immigration has become a vexing and divisive issue across our land and across our world.
What does the Bible say about immigration? How should followers of Jesus who call us to “welcome the stranger” respond to today’s immigration debate? What should we know to inform our response? Our five-week series invites us to peer through the lens of our faith at matters like the Bible and immigration; the terminology of immigration; the phenomenon of global migration; our country’s immigration legal system; immigrant detention; legalizing one’s status; refugee and asylum petitions; DACA and young immigrants; and others.
This series has been eye-opening and informative. We have learned that there is much more to the plight of the immigrant than telling someone to get in line at the border and wait their turn. Our nation needs to reform its immigration laws for sure. Yet, as followers of Jesus, we are called and compelled to love our neighbor and to welcome the stranger. We are to remember the words of the One who said, “[Whatever] you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40, NIV)
If your congregation would like to take a deeper look at immigration and begin to cultivate an authentic Christian response, I encourage you to contact Greg and Sue Smith. They have been a great help to us on our journey here in south Richmond.
Rev. Dr. Bob Lee serves as senior pastor of Huguenot Road Baptist Church in North Chesterfield, Va.
Greg and Sue Smith are CBF field personnel serving the first-generation Latino immigrant community through LUCHA Ministries, Inc., located in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Learn more about their ministry at www.cbf.net/smith.