St. Patrick's parish hall gives summary of refugees situation, looks forward
Church and community members turned out to St. Patrick's Church Jan. 3 for a review of the refugee process and a panel featuring local faith leaders.
In October 2016, the church was asked to serve as the main resource for five Syrian refugee families who had been approved by the federal government for resettlement in Hudson. At the end of December, the case was transferred from St. Patrick's Church to Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin, which elected not to settle the refugees in Hudson due to medical needs.
St. Patrick's Rev. John Gerritts said the night was an opportunity for everyone to look in the mirror and reflect on the process and the issues it brought forward.
"The reality is there are people in our community that are not feeling the welcome that most of us did when we first moved here," Gerritts said. "That is something that when I look in the mirror I'm not proud of."
Pastoral Council Chair Heidi Young and Church Trustee Claire Zajac gave a review of what the process leading to a decision looked like and what they learned from it. The council had planned to recommend a decision to Gerritts by Jan. 5 before it was taken out of their hands.
Zajac said the church learned that resettlement is a very complicated process, but many in the community were willing to step up and support them, both private citizens and fellow churches.
"They were kind, they were welcoming and they were willing to partner with us," Zajac said of Hudson congregations.
She said they also learned that residents love Hudson and want what's best for the community. Throughout the process, however, the church encountered a "not in my backyard" philosophy.
"We've heard from people that yes these people need help, but it's not us," Zajac said.
In the end, Zajac said the church learned that the process they set out to follow worked, even though they didn't have a chance to make a decision.
"Our conversations brought us here," she said.
The panel for the evening featured Revs. Gerritts, Larry Szyman of Faith Community, John Lestock of Bethel Lutheran Church and Tim Sackett of Powerhouse Chapel.
Gerritts opened the panel by explaining the process drew a large response from both within and outside of the community. It brought out issues dealing with being welcoming, Islamophobia, diversity and general fear of the unknown.
"These are issues that we're certainly going to have to address and talk about," he said.
Szyman said he was both relieved and disappointed by the news of the refugees. He felt if given the chance, Hudson and its churches could have been successful with the resettlement.
"I want to thank you for your transparency and how you laid out this process and followed it," he told Gerritts.
Lestock, who has been involved with resettlement before in Owatonna, Minn., said this could have been a great opportunity for Hudson churches and said the churches should look for other opportunities.
"I would hope as churches and as people of faith that we could work together," Lestock said.
Sackett responded to the notion that Hudson should focus on the people in need in the community first, before helping refugees. As the pastor at the church located at the truck stop off Interstate 94, Sackett said he sees firsthand the homelessness issue in Hudson. He invited anyone with those concerns to join him in helping those in need here. He said much is already being done for the issue, but more has to be done.
"People were concerned that we're going to do something for someone we don't really know when we're not doing anything for people right here," he said.
The panel also allowed time for questions from the audience.
In response to a question about what the community should look like if Hudson was remade, Szyman said it's not about population or income.
"I think of a tone, I think of attitudes," he said.
One question asked if it was the place of one congregation, like St. Patrick's, to make the decision for the whole community. Gerritts said he knew he was just the first call made for assistance and that other churches would be asked if he said no.
Szyman added that Gerritts reached out to him and the other congregations immediately following the proposal. He also reminded the audience that the refugees were already approved by the federal government to move to Hudson.
"It wouldn't have been one congregation," he said.
Other questions asked how the issue should be addressed if it were ever to come up again. Szyman said a similar process would need to be followed, with the community working and learning together.
"We need to talk to each other more and about each other less," he said.
Gerritts said the process has to happen.
"It's going to require ultimately our churches working together," he said.