Brethren bits for March 26, 2021

Brethren Disaster Ministries is announcing a new program from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that will be rolling out in April to help assist individuals with funeral costs for those who have died from COVID-19. Families struggling to pay for funerals of loved ones who experienced COVID-19 related deaths in the United States after Jan. 20, 2020, and meet eligibility requirements will be able to apply. An official death certificate will be required that attributes the death to COVID-19 or indicates the death may have been caused by or was likely the result of COVID-19 or COVID-like symptoms. Eligible funeral expenses are capped at $9,000 per applicant, and must not have been reimbursed through another source. Brethren Disaster Ministries will be sharing more information soon about the program.

Church of the Brethren general secretary David Steele and staff of the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy have signed on to letters calling for the President to sign a revised refugee admissions goal for fiscal year 2021 and restore refugee allocation numbers.

An interfaith letter organized by Church World Service (CWS) was sent to President Biden on March 18, expressing concern over the cancellation of flights into the US that were to carry refugees seeking asylum, and calling for revised refugee admissions goals and restoration of refugee allocations based on vulnerability and need. CWS has a program for refugee resettlement. “We are deeply concerned about the 200-plus canceled flights and the plan to cancel even more flights this month,” the letter said, in part. “It is important to note that not only are refugee families anxious to be reunified, but also a lot of resettlement sites have already secured housing and set up welcome teams for arrivals that have been assured and booked for travel. Urgently signing the new refugee admissions goal will prevent the cancellation of travel for hundreds of refugees scheduled to arrive over the coming weeks, honor your promise to protect refugee families, and reverse much of the damage done to the resettlement program under the previous administration. We are called by our sacred texts and faith principles to love our neighbor, accompany the vulnerable, and welcome the sojourner. Our congregations, synagogues, and mosques have historically played key roles in assisting refugees.”

The full archive of past issues of Messenger, the Church of the Brethren denominational magazine, is now online. Available to the general public are Messenger issues from 2000-2019 at www.brethren.org/messenger/archive, where there also is a link to access the issues of Gospel Messenger and Messenger from 1883-2000 that are saved in the Brethren Digital Archives. The most recent two years of the magazine–currently 2020 and 2021–are reserved for subscribers to the print magazine, who receive a password to access those digital copies. For questions contact cobweb@brethren.org.

A letter to the President organized by the Refugee Council USA and signed by more than 200 national, state, and local organizations including religious and humanitarian groups was sent March 24. “We are deeply concerned that the FY21 refugee admissions goal has not yet been signed and that the previous administration’s restrictive allocations have not been lifted,” the letter said, in part. “This delay has caused serious harm, including the cancellation of more than 700 flights this month alone and fewer monthly refugee arrivals today than last year under the previous administration. We urge you to immediately sign a new, revised FY21 refugee admissions goal of 62,500 and restore regional allocations based on vulnerability and need…. We know our nation has strong refugee laws that provide for asylum for refugees seeking protection from persecution, as well as a strong refugee resettlement program, which have existed and operated in tandem for decades. Refugees are powerful ambassadors of our founding principles of equal opportunity, religious freedom, and liberty and justice for all. Refugees contribute greatly to the United States in ordinary times, and have continued to show up for their new communities during the COVID-19 crisis, with many working on the frontlines of the pandemic, including 176,000 refugees serving in the healthcare field and 175,000 working as part of the food supply chain. Our experiences working alongside refugees mirror the statistics that demonstrate that refugees bring tangible benefits to U.S. communities by starting businesses, becoming homeowners, revitalizing local economies, and becoming civic leaders.” The letter noted that March 17, 2021 was the 41st anniversary of the signing of the bipartisan Refugee Act of 1980, landmark legislation establishing the US refugee resettlement program.

Staff of the Church of the Brethren Material Resources program loaded two shipments this week on behalf of Brothers Brother Foundation. The program warehouses and ships relief materials on behalf of a number of partner organizations, working out of the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Md. A shipment of hospital equipment and 13 pallets of hospital supplies are on their way to be consolidated with other supplies and shipped to Sierra Leone. Another 40-foot container loaded with beds and other equipment is on its way to a hospital in Jamaica.

The latest issue of Bridge, the Church of the Brethren young adult newsletter, is now available online. Features include reflections on the theme of this year’s National Young Adult Conference, “Unfolding Grace,” and introductions of the conference leadership; reflections on life during the pandemic including an interview with nurse Krystal Bellis; an article by Jenna Walmer about STAND, a student-led organization to end mass atrocities; Mylea Evans’ mural for Harrisburg (Pa.) First Church of the Brethren and an article about Alyssa Parker’s role at bcm PEACE in Harrisburg; and more. Find the newsletter at https://issuu.com/brethrenyya/docs/bridge-spring2021.final.

An action alert from the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy calls Brethren to contact their senators in support of the Justice for Black Farmers Act. “For nearly a century, racial discrimination in agriculture, exclusion from federal relief programs, and laws that preyed upon the economically disadvantaged have slashed the number of Black farmers in America from the nearly one million who farmed in 1920 to fewer than 50,000 today,” the alert said, in part. Citing the 1991 Annual Conference Report of Committee on Brethren and Black Americans, the alert explained that “by supporting the Justice for Black Farmers Act, you are advocating for an independent board to review appeals of civil rights complaints filed against the USDA, investigate complaints of discrimination within the department, and oversee the farmer-elected county committees that guide operations at local USDA offices. It also would increase funding for a USDA program to resolve the ‘heirs property’ issue of land passed from one generation of a family to another without a clear title. A new Equitable Land Access Service would issue land grants of 160 acres apiece to up to 20,000 experienced Black farmers annually through 2030.” Find the full action alert at https://mailchi.mp/brethren.org/justice-for-black-farmers?e=df09813496.

A Good Friday Tenebrae Service of Shadows is available in video format, originally prepared for Good Friday 2020. In this moving video of a “Service of Shadows” viewers participate in a Tenebrae service modeled after one that has been a tradition for Creekside Church of the Brethren in Indiana. “Hear Good Friday scriptures read as candles go out, leaving us in the darkness that (for a time) follows the crucifixion of Jesus,” said an invitation. “This simple, meditative piece can be appreciated by both congregations and individuals.” Created by a team led by Creekside pastor Rosanna Eller McFadden, the video is published by Brethren Press. Find it at www.brethren.org/tenebrae.

The Meat Canning Committee has announced in the Southern Pennsylvania District newsletter that the annual meat canning has been canceled for this year after not enough volunteers signed up to cover all the needed shifts. “The committee is aware of the immense local and global need, therefore the committee has decided to use the funds that have been donated to purchase canned meat for distribution,” the announcement said. “Thank you to the congregations and individual that made sacrificial donations and for each volunteer’s willingness to serve!”

“Help pass the Federal Death Penalty Prohibition Act of 2021 in the first 100 days of the Biden administration,” said this week’s newsletter from the Church of the Brethren’s Death Row Support Project. The bill has been introduced by Rep. Ayanna Pressley in collaboration with Sen. Dick Durbin, who has introduced a companion bill in the Senate. “Everyone who wants to abolish the death penalty is asked to help ensure your members of Congress sign on to the bill as co-sponsors, or at least commit to supporting it when it comes up for a vote,” the announcement said. Find out more about the Death Row Support Project at www.brethren.org/drsp.

“All children of God, all siblings in Christ have gifts to share with the world,” said an announcement of the next podcast from Dunker Punks. “How are we as Brethren failing to practice what we preach as we hold prejudices and prevent others from spiritual growth and leadership? In this intimate episode, Gabe Padilla shares with us stories from his life and transitioning from Catholicism to Anabaptism and from female to male.” Listen at bit.ly/DPP_Episode111 and subscribe to the podcast at bit.ly/DPP_iTunes.

“With pointed urgency, faiths rise for climate justice,” said a release from the World Council of Churches. The WCC has joined grassroots religious activists and high-level faith leaders in a statement that issues 10 demands and condemns inadequate progress by governments and financial institutions. An event on March 11 included more than 400 grassroots religious actions in 43 countries and thousands of people of faith calling on political and financial leaders to meet a series of ambitious climate demands at the COP26 (the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties, which will be held in Glasgow, Scotland, on Nov. 1-12, 2021). Said the WCC release: “The statement calls on governments and banks immediately to end their support for new fossil fuel infrastructure and tropical deforestation, to commit to universal access to clean and affordable energy, to enact policies creating green jobs and a just transition for impacted workers and communities, to secure policies and funding supporting those forced to migrate due to climate impacts, and more. Members of the Greenfaith International Network noted that as the COVID-19 pandemic has cost millions of people their jobs and their health, the fossil fuel industry has secured billions of dollars of emergency bailout funding while lobbying to weaken climate and environmental protections. In addition, during the past year in Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Indonesia, home to the world’s largest tropical rainforests, governments have actually made it easier for agribusinesses to accelerate logging.” Find the full statement at https://actionnetwork.org/forms/sacred-people-sacred-earth-sign-the-multi-faith-climate-statement.

The United Nations is warning that more than 30 million people around the world are just “one step away from starvation.” In an article about the warning from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Program, the Guardian newspaper reported that contributing to the rise in hunger worldwide are the pandemic, climate crisis, conflict situations, and plagues of locusts. Starvation already is being reported in areas of Yemen and South Sudan, the report said, and those two locations plus northern Nigeria top the list of areas facing catastrophic levels of acute hunger. Most of the places most at risk are in Africa but others are across the globe in Afghanistan, Syria, Lebanon, Haiti, and elsewhere. Find the FAO report at www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/1382490/icode. Find the Guardian article at www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/mar/24/over-30-million-people-one-step-away-from-starvation-un-warns.

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