By Grayson Morley
“Shield the Fields: Farmworker Equality,” a week-long tour that culminated April 13 at St. Luke’s Church in Brockport, New York, is part of the year-round work of Rural & Migrant Ministry in Poughkeepsie.
Tour participants, farmworkers and advocates alike, wore orange ponchos emblazened with Farmworkers Deserve Equal Rights. They carried signs and flags, talking to passersby about New York’s current labor law. The mostly Hispanic farmworkers talked about their experience as migrant workers in this country and their hope for a better future. They sounded the traditional rallying cry of United Farm Workers: “¡Sí, se puede (Yes, it is possible or Yes, you can)!”
Organizing this tour is central to Rural & Migrant Ministry, which was founded in 1981 by the Diocese of New York and four Protestant denominations. The Diocese of Rochester, which signed onto RMM’s founding covenant ten years ago, has recently strengthened its commitment to the ministry through the involvement of its bishop, the Rt. Rev. Prince G. Singh.
RMM has an office in the former rectory of Grace Church, Lyons, now the Liturgia Rural Workers Education Center. Farmworkers meet each week to discuss topics of their choosing.
“I think it is unusual for us in the church to see ourselves as partners in transformation, working across geographical, cultural and socio-economic boundaries, as well as with secular groups, to bring about a more just world,” said the Rev. Richard Witt, RMM’s executive director since 1981.
“Time and time again I have heard members of the dioceses say that their own faith has been broadened and strengthened as they have engaged in the prophetic ministry of RMM. They have felt a sense of inspiration working with those who are different.”
RMM uses a variety of programs in its partnership with disenfranchised workers and people. RMM’s Youth Arts Group, based in and around Poughkeepsie, gives high-school students a forum through spoken-word poetry and street theater. RMM works as well with the Justice for Farmworkers Music Group and helps provide classes in English as a second language.
Witt said: “We have teenagers working alongside those in their 80s to create hope; suburban and urban folks concerned about the production of their food traveling great distances to spend time getting to know farmworkers; folks of great affluence sharing a meal and a vigil in front of the State House with workers who live crammed into a trailer; college students engaged in a summer internship led by retired ministers; folks who came on the Mayflower praying alongside those who came over the border fence.
“Ultimately Rural & Migrant Ministry is about a group of people deciding that their liberation and God’s presence are best experienced by working together for the creation of a world that honors and celebrates the dignity of all people and acknowledges that we are all God’s children.”
Grayson Morley is Rural & Migrant Ministry’s communications fellow.