Reading time: 4 minutes
By Sarah Kye Price
I’ve read lots of news stories as I’ve followed from afar the treatment and conditions of women, children and families attempting to cross into the United States seeking asylum and the promise of a new beginning. My blood begins to boil when I think about the people already here, who live in fear of being detained and deported. I’m downright furious, as both a social worker and a seminarian, at the idea that separating young children from their families when all of our psychological, sociological and neuroscience evidence tells us that this is psychologically damaging to both children and families. But even with all of that, I was still gut-punched and heart-wrenched as we pulled up to the Hutto “residential center” yesterday and began to unload our buses, singing songs of prayer and love and protest.
At one point, the group split and some of us walked from the prayer vigil on the thin patch of public property between the private jail (let’s call it what it is) and the privately owned railroad tracks. Standing as near as we were allowed to without fear of arrest, we began to pray and hold up signs of love, singing to those inside. Soon, we began to see white papers and handkerchiefs in the windows, women signaling to us that they knew we were there. In an instant, our shouts and cries changed to “Te vemos! (“We See You!”), because we did see them. In fact, I still see those white flags of hope as prayers of the people detained: prayers that we will love, that we will stand in solidarity with them, that we will work in all the ways we can to uphold dignity and work for justice, freedom and peace. We see you.
This moment of public witness comes in the midst of General Convention, a time when I am also hearing rallying cries of people “back in the pews” at home: listen to us, see us. Although I am on the sidelines watching from the media section, I am also here to bear witness and tell you: We see you. We hear you on social media, and we talk about the concerns of old and young, conservative and progressive, Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical, black and white and native and creole and latinx, of all beautiful manifestations of gender identity and sexual orientation. Your stories and voices are here, even if you are not. I understand that, for issues as vast and emotional as marriage rites and Prayer Book revision, it can easily feel as though voices are unheard. But on the sidelines of open hearings and the floor of the House of Deputies, General Convention is hearing your voices and your stories.
It seems to me that what is happening in our nation, our Church and our world is also a desperate rallying cry to be seen. So, I ask: How will we know when we are seen? Will we believe and trust the people who gather to pray to do the work needed to do? Or will we only believe we are seen and heard when we get the outcome we desire? I want to believe—I do believe—that even just one of those women detained at Hutto felt enfolded in the love of God, even if I couldn’t run up and break down the doors and set her free. I also want to believe that those who are feeling unheard back home and on the sidelines will feel enfolded in the love of God even if they cannot yet see the outcome. Time and trust are essential.
Those of us at General Convention, and most of us in this Church, are neither detained nor imprisoned. We are the Body of Christ. Our work together here involves some who are speaking, some who are listening, some who are the heart, some who are the eyes and the ears, the hands and the feet. All of those reading and following back home are all of these things too. The less visible parts are also essential to the Body, and we see you.
Whatever your position, however you may personally feel about a particular legislative item, amendment or vote: We are the Body of Christ. We are seen and known and loved by each other and by God. Believe this, friends—even if it feels like you are holding up a small piece of paper from a vast distance to people you don’t know but who say that they care. That is why we are here. We see you. Trust that we will do the work we are given to do, transformed by what we have seen.
Sarah is a professor of social work at Virginia Commonwealth University and a seminarian at Church Divinity School of the Pacific. She was recently awarded a grant by the Episcopal Evangelism Society for her project, Faith from the Margins to the Web, a blog and Gospel commentary co-written by people living with homelessness, poverty or food insecurity. She’s a mild-mannered professor by day, and a multi-tasking superhero by, well, also by day.