How can the Adirondack Region be more welcoming to refugees in a time when the need is acute but the political atmosphere is often hostile? On Dr. Martin Luther King Day, the Keene Valley Congregational Church (KVCC) hosted a Refugee Summit for area faith communities to begin a discussion about how to open hearts and homes to refugees in a time of international crisis. Conceived by the KVCC Steering Committee and Minister Milton Dudley, the three-hour event was attended by about seventy people from nearly a dozen churches and faith organizations from throughout the North Country and as far away as Saratoga Springs.
Speaking of the high turnout and the immediate sense of purpose in the room, Reverend Dudley said the gathering went “way above and beyond” his expectations. “I think the spirit here is ‘We want to do something, so let’s go.’ The analysis will come later.”
After a brief welcome that included reading of four quotes by Dr. King and a soulful performance of “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child” by harpist Martha Gallagher, attendees got down to a robust conversation about “big ideas.” Three of these were selected for more in-depth discussion by smaller groups: making the North Country a place of welcome, international refugee challenges, and political advocacy. Facilitators filled flip charts with ideas on topics ranging from education and government policy to advertising, housing, employment, economics, the peace movement and the special needs of children.
Many in attendance said they were new to the refugee issue or that their churches and communities were just beginning to talk about it. But there were also participants with extensive experience both in the United States and overseas. “It’s uplifting to us,” said Steering Committee member Naj Wikoff, referring to one attendee who worked to help refugees in Hungary for twenty years.
A recurring theme was how the North Country as a whole can have a united sense of identity and strive to become kown as an especially welcoming region for refugees. “We’re really feeling an ‘Adirondack’ group,” said Wikoff. “It’s expansive and enriching.” Added Reverend Dudley, “ We felt a common spirit.”’
Next steps will be to distill the ideas gathered and communicate back to faith communities throughout the area. The organizers plan another gathering soon. “We were being cautious about being too ambitious,” said Wikoff. “But we’re hearing strongly that people want things to happen now, right here.”
Photo: Keene Valley Congregational Church. Photo courtesy KVCC.
For more information on the refugee project, contact the Keene Valley Congregational Church at [email protected] or visit their website.