Bishops' Learning Forum Extends to Border

by Diane Degnan* & Vance Morton**
The third day of the Forum of Active Bishops’ meeting in San Diego took the bishops to the U.S. – Mexico border to learn more about the people who live and work near the border and the issues they face.  “Consider what it means to live in poverty amidst great wealth,” said Bishop Minerva Carcaño of the Los Angeles Episcopal area. “Consider the impact on families on all sides of the border.  Consider the great mission opportunity that exists for the church.”

The bishops divided into four groups, each with different itineraries. A loaf of bread for Communion was divided into quarters, with each group carrying a piece of the loaf.  At the end of the afternoon, the four groups converged at Friendship Park for a Holy Communion service, separated by the border wall – some on the Mexico side of the border and some on the U.S.

The Rev. John Fanestil said that he began serving Communion in Friendship Park in 2008 to stand in solidarity with families who meet there. “For some families, it’s the only place they get to see loved ones.”

“I listened as, through the fence, [my wife] Jolynn visited with a mother holding a young child,” said Bishop Mike Lowry, episcopal leader of the Central Texas Conference.  “The mother, a United Methodist, had other children living as citizens in the U.S.  She and her husband (along with a 2 year old) are not citizens and cannot visit their children.  The hard reality of the border fence and the tangled arbitrariness of our immigration policies were brought home on a painful personal level.  Regardless of where one stands on the political spectrum, it is time to move forward with reform in a manner consistent with family values and Christian convictions.”
The visit was a learning experience for the bishops, who met with Mario Lopez, a representative of the San Diego mayor’s office at San Ysidro and viewed the pedestrian bridge leading into Tijuana. At another stop, they met with Enrique Morones, director of the Border Angels, a volunteer non-profit organization that advocates for human rights and immigration reform through community education and awareness programs.

One group of bishops hiked 1½ miles to Friendship Park through the Tijuana Estuary, one of the last undeveloped areas in the region. Another group crossed the border into Mexico to the Plaza del Bordo, an open-air migrant encampment to distribute health kits to the community. They also visited a ministry of the Methodist Church of Mexico.

“Today was a powerful reminder of the relationship we have with the struggles of migrant people and with strangers all over the world,” said Bishop Warner Brown of the San Francisco Episcopal Area. “They're people, they're families, just like families that live here, and many of them are directly related to people who have been here for centuries.”

“I come from a country which was divided through a wall and fences for 40 years,” said Bishop Rosemarie Wenner of the Germany Episcopal Area who was reminded of the similarities.

“The division of families, the division of the church, sisters and brothers here and there, the division of neighborhoods – that was exactly the same. I’m so happy that the church is in ministry here at that border. The congregation meeting there Sunday by Sunday is such a witness that through Christ and in Christ and in God's love, any border does not matter because we know that God's love is for all people and we work for justice so that families can live together.”
*Diane is a member of the United Methodist Communications News team.
**Vance is the director of Communications & IT for the CTC.