Massachusetts Episcopalians rally to help new migrant group

St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church on Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., aids a migrant group from Venezuela. Photo/Ray Ewing/Vineyard Gazette

St. Andrew’s Church in Edgartown, Mass. opened its doors to provide emergency shelter on Sept. 14 to 43 men, women and children, all apparently migrants from Venezuela, reported the Diocese of Massachusetts in an article posted Sept. 15 on its website.

The group arrived on Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the southeastern coast of Massachusetts that is a longtime summer destination, by plane late in the day with no notice to island officials.  The migrants themselves seemed to have been uninformed, or misinformed, according to some reports, about their destination.

St. Andrew’s efforts on behalf of the new arrivals were featured in national news reports. The migrants were moved to Joint Base Cape Cod on Sept. 16, where accommodations, legal services and health care were set up for them. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration was supporting the local effort with state emergency aid, reported Episcopal News Service.

The church’s welcoming spirit was reflected in messages on its Facebook page:

  • “I knew when I read that a church was helping that it would be an Episcopal church. I’m not a believer, but all the Episcopalians I’ve met were Christians, as I understand Christianity should be. Thank you for helping these exhausted, confused, frightened people so poorly treated by parts of the U.S. I’ve donated, and I wish I could send more.”
  • “I just donated. I worship at St. Andrew’s when I vacation on Martha’s Vineyard and I am not surprised that the church and the people of the island have demonstrated their giving spirit through hospitality and welcome.”
  • “Is there an online account or Venmo where I can donate? Bless you for your work. I live in Texas and am ashamed of what is happening.”
  • “Thank you for helping these people. I’m a Florida resident and I’m ashamed of what our state did to them.”
  • “Thank you so much for allowing us to participate from afar, and for your witness, for being the hands and feet of Jesus.”

News media reported that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s administration arranged for the people to be sent to Martha’s Vineyard as part of a wider scheme to relocate undocumented immigrants to states like Massachusetts that have “sanctuary” policies in place against cooperation with aggressive federal deportation efforts, the diocese noted.

Local officials, community service providers, volunteers and churches rallied to meet the group’s basic needs until next steps can be determined.  They were taken for temporary shelter to St. Andrew’s Church, whose facilities are sometimes used for shelter space as part of community-supported housing services. Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration was reported to be supporting the local effort with state emergency aid.

Given the evolving nature of the situation, Diocese of Massachusetts Bishop Alan M. Gates and Bishop Suffragan Gayle E. Harris and diocesan staff were in contact with St. Andrew’s clergy and leaders as they discerned what further response may be needed.

St. Andrew’s co-warden Palmer Marrin reported an “amazing outpouring of community support,” the diocese reported.

Donated supplies and services, including language translation and legal counsel, seemed to be adequate as of Sept. 15, she said, so those wishing to help were invited to make online monetary donations to St. Andrew’s Church, designating “Refugee Efforts” in the note field.  St. Andrew’s can then make sure the funds go to where they are most needed as the situation evolves, in coordination with the other island churches, said Marrin.

On its website, the church noted that local people who wish “to support our Venezuelan guests,” and assist with supplies, clothes, food and water, toiletries, transportation, translation, etc., should contact the Dukes County Sheriff’s Office at 

“We deplore the treatment of human beings as pawns in political disputes,” Gates said. “Unannounced relocations and family separations are not humane, nor do they promote constructive immigration policy debate.  We are grateful to the people of St. Andrew’s and to the entire Martha’s Vineyard community for their compassionate response to people in need, and pledge our support of those efforts.”