Blessing of winter items for Refugees
December 2019 | Written by John Curtis | Photography © John Curtis
Voices rose in song, love, and understanding in a Yale Divinity School chapel on November 19, as 100 people gathered to bless winter garments collected for refugees and immigrants in the New Haven community.
Since the fall of 2016, the Andover Newton Seminary at Yale, in partnership with IRIS, has held a winter clothing drive. For a second time, the seminary and IRIS joined in a service of blessing in Marquand Chapel. The gifts to be blessed included coats and fleece jackets, as well as wool hats knitted by seminary students. The seminary, originally based in Newton, Mass., merged with the divinity school in 2017.
“Today we are acknowledging the Warm Welcome project where our knitters knit year-round to provide warm clothing for our IRIS partners,” said seminary Dean Sarah Drummond, as she opened the half-hour service. “It is a time to celebrate life and love.”
The blessing took place during one of the daily worship services that are held while classes are in session, said chapel director Emilie Casey. At last year’s blessing, Ashley Makar, outreach coordinator at IRIS and a graduate of the divinity school, offered a sermon. Afterwards, said Casey, “there was a time for the worshipers to write notes of warm welcome that were attached to the items of clothing that were distributed to clients of IRIS.”
For this year’s blessing, Makar and her colleague Laurel McCormack, a current divinity student and IRIS staff member, brought members of the IRIS young women’s leadership group. The high school and college students from Congo, Afghanistan, and Iraq meet twice a week for college and career prep classes, and for workshops related to leadership among women of color. The young women offered readings from the Scripture and the Qu’ran, as well as personal reflections. Divine Mahoundi and Noor Roomi, students at Gateway Community College, shared their perspectives on each other’s religion.
“We have found similar messages in the Qu’ran and the Bible,” said Mahoundi, a Christian from the Republic of Congo. “You have your religion and I have my religion. But let’s understand and love each other.”
“When we are far from each other, there are problems,” said Roomi, a Muslim woman from Iraq. “When we come together, we learn from each other.”
Throughout the service, the Marquand Gospel Choir, made up of students and faculty, performed several hymns. Many were written by choir director Mark Miller, a lecturer in Sacred Music at Yale’s Institute of Sacred Music.
The service closed with the blessing offered by Ana Kelsey-Powell and Jathan Martin, students at the Andover Newton Seminary.
“God, we come before you today asking that you would bless us with abundance,” said Kelsey-Powell. “Bless us, oh God, with an abundance of gratitude that we might be mindful of our privileges and advocate for others in all times and places.”
“Oh, gracious God, bless these garments with the warmth of your love. May it be, for those who wear them, a symbol of community support and solidarity,” said Martin.
They concluded by asking the congregation to raise their arms towards the clothing as a sign of the blessing.
“In this service,” said Casey, “our hope was to lift up these donated items and the people that offered them and the people that received them, offer them up to God in prayer.”