Rev. Nathan Williams, representing the Christian faith from Echo Hill Presbyterian Church

Peace be with you. I am Nathan Williams, pastor at Echo Hill Presbyterian Church. It's my privilege to speak on behalf of the broader Christian tradition.

According to the New Testament, Jesus became a refugee shortly after he was born:

[A]n angel of the Lord appeared to [Jesus' father] Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. (Matthew 2:13-15a)

Early Christians were known for practicing boundary-breaking hospitality to neighbor and stranger alike. We believe that whenever we welcome someone in need, we are welcoming Christ.

As Presbyterians, we claim this tradition with great humility. We are aware of the many times when we have failed to extend welcome. We confess our sin and seek to begin anew. And we are bold to claim our highest ideals in the name of Christ.

Prayer, by the Rev. Laurie Kraus of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance:

God, our heart's true home, Father and Mother of us all:
       We can no longer pretend to be distant from the heartbreak afflicting your children
       who have fled in fear for their lives, the violence and war in their homelands            

       who must turn their backs on home to survive famine, catastrophe or drought.
These our neighbors,
        stopped at the borders of countries too overwhelmed to welcome
              held in trains, awaiting a word of hope,
              huddled in camps and overcrowded shelters
              with nowhere to turn and no way to turn back--
         these neighbors need the welcome of America,

              where Liberty still stands vigil in New York Harbor,

              still singing  give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free
              as she has sung for two centuries, as she sang for our own forebears.

Her torch blazes still, a light that shines in darkness,

         bidding us to walk alongside,

         to be once again a city set on a hill whose light cannot be hidden.
Jesus, who said, let the children come to me,
We know the truth: all of these children are our sons and daughters;
         and their parents are our brothers and sisters, and we owe them a room in the inn,

         a place of safety, a chance to live and thrive.

We pray in gratitude for the many nations who have already welcomed so many,

         whose resources are strained under the burden of hospitality

         but who are still willing to do more.

We pray for ourselves:

         citizens in a land of plenty who hesitate,

         fearful for our safety, afraid there will not be enough,
         whose time for action is upon us.
May we challenge fear, inspire a better vision, and welcome extravagantly.
We pray that you will help us to do better, to be better.
Spirit of  Light, who descended, resting like fire on the heads of frightened and defeated disciples:
      even though we seem to walk in darkness,
      we are called to be light for the world.
Help us, as our country's policies push closed our nation's doors
       to stand with those strangers who need our help
       to let our voices be heard
To make a way where there seems no way.
Help our citizenry, made strong by the gifts of many nations
And unified by our common commitment to liberty and justice for all
To find again our heart and our hope,
And to say with one voice, we choose welcome.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Afnan Elsheikh, representing the Islamic faith from the Islamic Center of Cedar Rapids

Dear God,

We thank You and we praise You for the inspiration and human creativity through which You are weaving us together through communications and travel, social movements and expanding consciousness into one planetary web of Life, one stunning revelation of Your Creativity and Love.

We beg for Your forgiveness for every time, for every way that we let our small glimpses of Your Immensity swell our smallness into arrogance, dividing us from our sisters and brothers in whose hearts You dwell through Other images, experiences, cultures, revelations, Longing for the Fullness that only our Oneness can reveal.

We ask that You to break us free from the unconscious and conscious chains of fear and hate and xenophobia that have shackled some of our friends and neighbors. Turn our diverging paths towards each other into Your True Path to Fullness and Unity and Solidarity.

Purge us of whatever it is within us that turns our eyes away from poverty in nearly three billion of
our sisters and brothers, that allows us to turn away from helping the 65 million displaced refugees, that allows us to starve Your Revealing and Unifying Love in 800 million of our sisters and brothers, that allows us to plunder our planet, uncaring of our children's children, careless of the Sacredness it displays.

We ask You to alert us of Your Sacred Presence, Your Urgency within each of us in our uniqueness, in all of us in our infinite diversity, through all the forces drawing us together into one global village. Fill us with as much awe and joy at Your Presence in our 7 billion sisters and brothers, with as much energy and passion to work with You as we can that we all may be One in You.


I would like to share an excerpt from the Quran. The verses are from Al-Hashr, a chapter about migration and accepting those who have migrated by helping them settle and providing for them a safe haven.

I have paraphrased the verses for the sake of time and comprehension.

“For the poor emigrants who were expelled from their homes and their properties, seeking bounty from God [there is also a share]. Those are the truthful. And [also for] those who were already settled in al-Madinah and [adopted] love for those who emigrated to them and find not any want in their breasts of what the emigrants were given but give [them] preference over themselves, even though they are in privation. And whoever is protected from the stinginess of his soul - it is those who will be the successful.”

This verse fits our world today because it compels us to put those in need before our own selves, despite whether or not we have little to give. And by doing so, we will have pleased our Lord.

Eugenia Kendall, representing the Buddhist community from the Cedar Rapids Zen Center

Tonight’s reading is from a book entitled “The Six Perfections: Buddhism & the Cultivation of Character” by Dale S. Wright from his chapter on “The Perfection of Tolerance”

The mental attitudes of intolerance and impatience take an enormous toll on all of us.  Residing in these closed and rigid postures, we resent the situation in which we stand, and that resentment undermines flexible points of view from which we might engage the world effectively.  When impatient or intolerant, we diminish ourselves and others by inhabiting a rigid smallness of mind.  The perfection of tolerance includes a patient willingness to accept present reality as the point of departure for transformative work in the world.  The patient person is content to be wherever he or she is right now, no matter what this situation happens to be. Contentment in this case is not letting go of effort and striving; what it releases is the struggle, the unnecessary conflict that stands in the way of lucid assessment and sustained conviction.

Accepting the reality in which we stand, tolerant people do not indulge in moods of resentment; they do not waste energy resenting that things are as they are. In the grip of resentment, we falsify the world, refusing to face reality that has come to be. Wise patience does not struggle in this way; it does not exhaust resources of mind and body wishing that things were other than they are. Resentment of the real undermines our best efforts to see what we face and to deal with it constructively. Ideally, the practices of tolerance and patience would release us from the grip of these agitations, freeing the mind to deal with the situation calmly and directly. Letting go of unhelpful distractions, we are in a much better position to participate thoughtfully and effectively in the world.

Nancy Rhodes, representing the Native American Perspective

As a child I had to learn to integrate my various bloodlines since I am a Heinz 57 mixture of Indian and European blood. How do I come to a wholeness when part of my heritage wished to destroy other parts of my heritage? I had to come to a place of respect for each component of my background and find a way to integrate aspects to become a stronger more resilient individual. This is something the Nation needs to do. We can either allow fear and anger to dictate our response or we can be open to the idea that we grow stronger when we embrace the addition to our country of people coming to America for various reasons.

I look to Black Elk’s vision of the need to heal the sacred hoop which encompasses the coming together of all people. I have heard also the Medicine Wheel seen as a mirror of reality. I would ask for you to explore and appreciate how it shows respect for different perspectives and the strength the various ways of knowing and being can help us become a stronger nation.

Becky Jensen and Susan Abel, representing the Bahai faith community

"To Live The Life"

To be no cause of grief to anyone.
To be kind to all people and to love them with a pure spirit.
Should opposition or injury happen to us, to bear it, to be as kind as ever can be, and through all, to love the people. Should calamity exist in the greatest degree, to rejoice, for these things are the gifts and favors of God.
To be silent concerning the faults of others, to pray for them, and to help them, through kindness, to correct their faults.
To look always at the good and not at the bad. If a man has ten good qualities and one bad one, look at the ten and forget the one. And if a man has ten bad qualities and one good one, to look at the one and forget the ten.
Never to allow ourselves to speak one unkind word about another, even though that other be our enemy.
To do all of our deeds in kindness.
To cut our hearts from ourselves and from the world.
To be humble.
To be servants of each other, and to know that we are less than anyone else.
To be as one soul in many bodies, for the more we love each other, the nearer we shall be to God; but to know that our love, our unity, our obedience must not be by confession, but of reality.
To act with cautiousness and wisdom.
To be truthful.
To be hospitable.
To be reverent.
To be the cause of healing for every sick one,

a comforter for every sorrowful one,
a pleasant water for every thirsty one.
a heavenly table for every hungry one,
a star to every horizon,
a light for every lamp,
a herald to everyone who yearns for the kingdom of God.


Rev. Rebecca Hinds, representing the Christian faith community from Peoples Church Unitarian Universalist.

​​Good evening. My name is Rebecca Hinds and I am the minister of Peoples Church Unitarian Universalist here in Cedar Rapids. Unitarian Universalists care a great deal about life here and now, on earth, in time. Our theology and tradition focuses our attention on building heaven right here on earth rather than expecting it in an afterlife. We model our communities and our behavior around 7 principles that encourage respect, cooperation, inclusion, and spiritual growth. All are welcome in our tradition. These principles and our commitment to inclusion and social justice have us outraged at any discrimination based on ethnicity, race, nationality, or religion. We stand up for justice in this world. We open our hearts wide to love. Together as a community we try as hard as we can to love the hell out of this world. Please pray with me.  

Written by Anonymous and adapted by Rev. Rebecca Hinds

The familiar can be delicate for the innocent,
and too often suddenly lost and destroyed:
homes and roads and neighborhoods
or simply the sense of security which makes a place feel like it’s yours
like it’s a place to stay.

For so many reasons, people depart.
They seek refuge
from a thousand dangers and uncertainties
for themselves and their children
from places they can’t stay
onward to places often unknown.

Let us hold the refugee, the asylee, and the immigrant in prayer:
       May God be with you.
       May your grief and loss be assuaged.
       May the hard road you travel include spaces of rest and security.
       May you know your inherent worth and dignity every day of the journey.

Let us pray for the people whom you will meet along the way:
       May they remember how they were strangers too.
       May they embrace the pathways of compassion.
       May they recall the teachings of the prophets.
       May they make room in their hearts and their homes.

Let us pray for our Muslim siblings in faith:
We stand with you and we will fight for your rights and protection,
May you feel an outpouring of love and support this evening and always from your neighbors in Cedar Rapids,   
May God be with you.

And, let us pray for all:
May the injustice of the recent presidential executive order stir our souls into action.
May the news from Syria make us tremble and wail.
May we understand that around the world tragedies occur daily, usually beyond our awareness.

And so May we count our blessings and direct our generous support where it is need.

May we seek partnerships that confront unjust structures and hardened hearts.
May we recommit ourselves to global community beyond all borders.
In human solidarity, and with a firm commitment to the pathways of compassion, may we pray and act unceasingly.


Featured Guest Speaker: Anne Dugger, Immigrant & Refugee Coordinator for the Catherine McAuley Center

Thank you to the Inter-religious Council of Linn County, attendees, and speakers. I wondered how I would top the preceding speakers and then I remembered – I’m here to talk about divinity in action at the center.  The Catherine McAuley Center has three main departments - Education, Transitional Housing, and Resettlement.  Last year, the Education Department had 400+ students from 50 countries, learning English, math, computer skills, and conversation classes.  Those classes were taught by 300+ volunteer tutors in hour-by-hour, one-on-one tutoring sessions.

On any given day at CMC, we hear Spanish, French, Arabic, Kirundi, Kinyrwanda, Swahili, and Vietnamese.

Welcoming the stranger is one of the things we understand completely at the center.  Each person who walks in our doors is greeted with a smile, a welcome, and an exchange of names. I ask their name and they usually say something like “Abdulaziz” or “Wandianguebe.”  At this point, we laugh and they spell it for me!  We try to let everyone know we’re so happy they’ve come to us – for education, for help, and most of all, for community.  

Along with our students, our volunteer tutors help to make the center a community of welcome.  The process of learning is an intimacy, a place of vulnerability, and each tutor acknowledges those and comes to their student (our family) with no judgment as they learn.  Our tutors give of their time, but most importantly, share their stories and their lives with our students and in the process, help create a safe and welcoming space. 

It’s a testament to the center that we often have tutors stop in and have some coffee between errands or just because it’s a nice place to come and enjoy some peace with loved ones.

The first thing anyone sees when they come into the center is our wall of welcome – it’s literally just that—the word welcome in many languages.  Welcome is an acknowledgement, a way to say “We see you, welcome into our shared humanity.” No one is invisible at the center and it’s one of the joys of going there every day.  We greet everyone by name, with a smile, and with a touch if possible.   With that welcome, we move from our closed personal space of isolation into a space where the prayers offered are in the wrinkled corners of eyes uplifted in a smile, or the easing of tension in shoulders hunched, expecting rebuff.  The tangible product of faith is trust, and with a welcoming smile, trust begins.  It’s the smallest thing, and often the easiest thing, so small and easy, we don’t think about smiling, but it’s the most important part of our day at the center.  

Turn to the person beside you, offer them a smile, look them in the eye and say “I’m so glad you’re here.”  This is how it feels to walk into the Catherine McAuley Center. This is how it feels to work at CMC.  This is what we actively cultivate daily, hourly, within our staff and outwards as we greet our family of students.

Each hour, you can find our education team, me, Shana, Katie, Leeann, Clark, Leya, Achissa, interns and service learners laughing and often singing.  Each hour, you can find our admin and housing teams, Paula, Kristin, Sandy, Kelsey, Lisa, Chelsea, Marissa, Tracey, and Jennifer, greeting and welcoming whoever comes through our doors with a smile and a kind word.  

Even better, though, each hour, you will find women and men from Guatemala, Burundi, Sudan, Mexico (Jacinto, Veronique, Mohamed, Margarita) speaking with men and women from Vietnam, Congo, China, Togo, and Rwanda (Cuong, Come, Chouang, Bakename, and Paul).  These are people who, in any other circumstance, would never, EVER have met; would never have spoken about their feeling of exhaustion after a long day of work, or exchanged recipes, or laughed over the antics of their children who are playing together under tables, in the staff offices, and underfoot of everyone at the center!  

This is welcoming at its finest. This is the world acknowledging the humanity of each other, and it’s happening every day in the heart of Cedar Rapids.  Our students are our family.  We all now have mothers and sisters from Sudan, Rwanda, Iowa, Burundi, Angola, Eritrea;  we have brothers and fathers from Mexico, Congo, Michigan, and Vietnam, We have children from Togo, Laos, and China.  We create new branches of that family tree daily, and it is our honor and our privilege to offer welcome and to be welcomed in return.  We invite you to become a part of our family –we’ll be happy you stopped by. 

Contact the Catherine McAuely Center to help support immigrants and refugees within our local community.

Location: 866 4th Ave SE, Cedar Rapids, IA 52403
Phone: (319) 363-4993



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