By G. Jeffrey MacDonald
The refugee resettlement program of the Episcopal Church has a new director to lead the agency at a time when mass migration and heightened security concerns have made refugee assistance a hot-button issue.
The Rev. Canon E. Mark Stevenson, vice president of the Living Church Foundation’s board of directors, has been appointed director of Episcopal Migration Ministries, which will settle about 5,000 refugees in the United States this year. He replaces Deb Stein, who directed the agency for more than 15 years and stepped down in May to pursue other interests.
“Mark Stevenson is a demonstrated leader, an able and effective administrator and a faithful and compassionate priest,” said Presiding Bishop Michael Curry in a May 23 statement announcing the appointment. Canon Stevenson comes to the job after serving as domestic poverty missioner. In that role, he oversaw Jubilee Ministries, which brings together 700 ministries to help people in poverty.
“As with the related issues of economic poverty ministry, the work of welcoming the stranger can bring systemic, transformative change to our world,” Stevenson said in a statement. “I am looking forward to my new ministry alongside the professional staff of Episcopal Migration Ministries, its affiliates, and partners as the Church lives into this calling.”
As Stevenson takes the helm, the work of resettling refugees is increasingly scrutinized as policymakers at the state and national levels question whether refugees are sufficiently vetted before they are resettled in the United States.
Of particular concern are refugees from Syria, where the Islamic State is headquartered. Inside Syria, 7.6 million people — more than 40 percent of the population — fled their homes as civil war raged in 2014, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
EMM resettles refugees from Syria, Iraq, and 30 other countries. All go through a thorough vetting process involving such federal agencies as the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to the Episcopal Church.
The UNHCR estimates that 19 million people worldwide are refugees. More than a quarter of them are Palestinians. Another 53 percent come from three countries: Afghanistan, Somalia, and Syria.
Stevenson is no stranger to working with displaced people. After serving as rector of parishes in Florida and Louisiana, he accepted a call as canon to the ordinary in the Diocese of Louisiana, where he worked closely with Bishop Charles Jenkins to develop relief services for victims of Hurricane Katrina. That work laid the foundation for what has become Episcopal Community Services of Louisiana, which provides assistance to people in need across the diocese.