The Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut

The Episcopal Church in Connecticut joins community to run 3.1 miles for refugees and immigrants in New Haven

Posted on by Alli Huggins, Digital Storyteller

Near the starting line of the 5k 

Unlike most races where runners stand in silence while someone sings the National Anthem, Sunday’s IRIS – Integrated Refugees and Immigrant Services’ Run for Refugees began with the Yale Gospel Choir singing Emma Lazarus’ poem, “The New Colossus,” the words written on the base of the Statue of Liberty:

 …Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

From left, Alli Huggins, Karin Hamilton,
Joseph Carroll, Jr., and Keith Bailey

This year was the 12th year IRIS and the community gathered outside Wilbur Cross High School, only blocks away from their office in the East Rock neighborhood of New Haven, to run 3.1 miles for refugees and immigrants. The community’s excitement, pride, and joy for the work IRIS does and the mission for which it stands was palpable throughout the morning. Local neighbors in New Haven, as well as neighbors from nearby towns, states, and countries, cheered, held “Refugees Are Welcome” signs, and even played instruments and music on their front porches along the course to show their support.

The Episcopal Church in Connecticut (ECCT) was one of the over 25 race sponsors to publicly and financially support the welcoming and protection of immigrants and refugees in Connecticut and America.

ECCT has a longstanding relationship welcoming the tired, the poor, the stranger, the refugee, setting an example for the church, the state, and the country. In 1942, ECCT established the Episcopal Social Service, Inc. (ESS), a not-for-profit dedicated to social justice and human services. In 1982, ESS began resettling refugees as a part of its ministry, and was renamed Interfaith Refugee Ministry (IRM) in 1990. Then in 2007, IRM was renamed one more time as IRIS – Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services and made steps to becoming a self-sufficient, self-governing not-for-profit social service. 

Although IRIS is a separate 503(c) not-for-profit organization, the church is still present as the current IRIS board members include the former Diocesan Bishop the Rt. Rev. Andrew Donovan Smith (1999 - 2009), the Rev. Ranjit K. Mathews, Rector of St. James’, New London, and the Rev. Peter E. Bushnell, Rector of Holy Trinity, Enfield.

This was the second year ECCT sponsored the IRIS Run for Refugees race, a decision made by the Bishops and Canons to further the energy cultivated in the Floor Resolution at ECCT’s 232nd Annual Convention (2016).

With sponsorship, ECCT received two free registration bibs, which, for the second year, was given to avid runners Joe Carroll of St. Luke’s, New Haven, and Keith Bailey of Holy Spirit, West Haven.

“It’s an honor and humbling to run as an ECCT person,” Carroll said, “IRIS does so much for refugees from war-torn countries to provide them with support, housing, and job skills. It’s an honor to be a part of this.” Bailey, a cradle Episcopalian, and member of a long lineage of Holy Spirit, West Haven congregants, was thrilled to be a part of the ECCT team “[Supporting refugees] is what ECCT is all about, helping one another,” Bailey said, “Everyone deserves a chance at a decent life.”

Joining Carroll and Bailey and the other 3,095 runners, were two ECCT employees: Karin Hamilton, Canon for Mission Communication & Media, and Alli Huggins, Digital Storyteller. “It makes me very happy to do something that I enjoy, while benefitting a terrific organization,” Hamilton said about her participation in the race.

Running for Carroll, Bailey, and Hamilton is not just a form of physical exercise and a way to participate in a community event, but a deeply spiritual practice. “I am more connected to God when I run,” said Hamilton, “running is absolutely a part of my spiritual life.”

The three ECCT runners ran without music, choosing to listen to the huffing and puffing of fellow runners and the natural sounds of East Rock Park. For Carroll, running allows him to think clearly, “I don’t run with music, I just run with nature and you get to really absorb God’s nature.” However, the fourth runner, Alli Huggins, needed the pump-up music of the band OutKast to get her through the long stretches of pavement.

Bailey, who after the race had to head back to Holy Spirit to deal with a maintenance issue, identified running as key source for his energy and dedication to his church; “[Running] gives me the extra energy to fulfill my own self schedule and duties to the church.”

Also spotted among the runners, was IRIS board member and retired ECCT bishop the Rt. Rev. Andrew Donovan Smith and his wife Kate. (photo, right).

The race ended back at Wilbur Cross High School with a time of fellowship, conversation, and international community meal. Most likely IRIS will keep with tradition and host the next Run for Refugee race on Super Bowl Sunday 2020. This continues the profound statement that before the country celebrates one American tradition, the community runs for the first and greatest American and deeply Christian tradition: welcoming the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.