Statement on Conflict in the Middle East

Searching for Hope

All Souls Day 2023

I have watched the situation in the Middle East unfold with horror and trepidation, and I have been at a loss for words in the midst of conflicting emotions and perceptions. The clash is filled with a complexity and layers of history that I can only begin to glimpse, let alone understand. I do know that I cry in mourning at the loss of life, the pervading fear and the shroud of hopelessness.

I weep at a war that seemingly has no foreseeable end or solution, as each day brings the horrible news of death among multitudes, especially children.

I also lament the division that is tearing apart communities and peoples, arising from this conflict and pitting people against one another in the United States and here in rural New York. Antisemitism and Islamophobia are rising and, in turn, fueling hate crimes against Muslims, Jews and Arabs. While the strife can seem far away to many of us, for many others it is close and deeply personal.

It is all overwhelming. We are hopeless, and many feel deeply unsafe. Many of us also wonder what we can possibly do, especially when there is such a divide that leads, seemingly, only to fear, hate and a refusal to talk about alternative pathways.

Rural & Migrant Ministry decries this violence and hatred within our communities. It is a hate that so often is rooted in fear and a lack of understanding of those who have traveled a different journey in life.

Our response to a world in conflict begins here at home. Our quest for changing the world to one of peace begins here at home. It may seem to be a small, insignificant step, but it is a step that we can, and must, take. As Eleanor Roosevelt said: “Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home, so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world.”

Rural & Migrant Ministry remains committed to welcoming people to the table where we gather in honor of the equality of humanity. We welcome a diverse array of people — acknowledging that the painful journey they, and their ancestors, have taken has shaped them. They are journeys that need to be heard. We acknowledge that our presence and discussion at the table is one of complexity and requires an openness to these different journeys and experiences as we seek new pathways of understanding, love and acceptance.

Our table has many legs. One of them is Respect for the dignity and sanctity of life as we honor the humanity of our brothers and sisters. Another leg is Justice, as we seek the just treatment of all, especially those who historically have been oppressed — acknowledging that frequently in our relationships, we can fall into mutual oppression. We also recognize the leg of Empowerment that honors the opportunities people deserve in order to create a life that is safe, healthy and healing.

Frequently, our table is covered with a cloth of lamentation — honoring the angst, the injustice, the pain and the fear that enshrouds us. We do not deny it, we do not trivialize it; we struggle in knowing there are no easy pathways or solutions, and that we are destined to have it be a part of our table, for it gives us wisdom and insight into the confusion of life.

On our table are candles of Hope, for those gathered around our table are hopeful that if we honor one another, and remain committed and active in building a community of love, then we can breach the walls that divide us.

This is the table of Rural & Migrant Ministry — located in the midst of communities and a world at war. And from this table we rise steadfast in our commitment to speak and act against hate, exploitation and exclusion of people based on their heritage. It is a small step, but it is a step. I invite you to join us.

In peace,

The Rev. Richard Witt,

Executive Director, Rural & Migrant Ministry

p.s. On Sunday, November 19, at our Center in Lyons, NY (between the Finger Lakes and Lake Ontario), we will gather for our monthly Justice Celebration at Grace! It is a gathering of many diverse people, from farmworkers to students, to people of many different faiths — who join in prayer, song and action — followed by a shared meal. The Rev. Dr. Chloe Breyer, director of the NYC Interfaith Center, will share her journey of peace. Here is the link for more info: