Building the welcome for Syrian refugees in Lancaster

Christine Baer and Halley Gradus | October 9, 2015

A row of colorful new townhouses or condominiums.

As we watch the crisis of Syrian refugees and pray for all those lost on the Mediterranean Sea, CWS in Lancaster, Pennsylvania is welcoming several Syrian refugee families from the current crisis.

On a rainy September weekend, a five-bedroom townhouse in Lancaster city is undergoing a special transformation. The building, which has been sitting empty for almost five months, is now the new home of the second Syrian family to arrive to Lancaster from the current crisis.

The volunteers, who are busy cleaning the house and carrying furniture through the door, are here because of a very intentional commitment on their part, they are this refugee family’s Welcome Team from the Worship Center, a local congregation in Lancaster. The Welcome Team has come together in order to assist the newly arrived family as they adjust to the community of Lancaster County. They are not only setting up the home, but will also greet the family at the airport as well as continue to remain community friends after their arrival.

Member of the Worship Center, Lacey Weber and Kristyn Leed, heard about the opportunity to help Syrian refugees through an article in the Lancaster Newspaper. The two now spearhead the team comprised of other friends and family from their church.

The team is not alone in their welcome of the family. In the midst of the organized chaos that comes with setting up a home, various neighbors and community members stop by to help.  More cleaning supplies are passed out and the even the youngest volunteers are hard at work scrubbing the corner of a window that they can barely reach. By the end of the day, the landlords, who specifically wanted to rent to refugees have joined to volunteer their time in set up.

Soon, more will come to help spread the warmth of welcome. A delegation of church leaders and congregants from Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia arrived at the home to lend a hand to the Welcome Team. The group, led by Rev. Dr. Sharon Stanley-Rea, the Director of Refugee and Immigration Ministries for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the U.S. and Canada, enthusiastically make beds, hang blinds and wash dishes.

Sharon Stanley states:  “As Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) churches in the Capital Area Region, together with additional partners from United Church of Christ and interfaith networks, we were delighted to see such an immense outpouring of support for refugees that it filled four carloads with housewarming supplies.  Most importantly, each car was loaded with people of faith eager to support local residents of Lancaster in welcoming the Almaradan family of nine from Syria!  To see our pastors and members from multiple backgrounds and locations making beds, hanging curtains, and stocking the kitchen made me smile.  Our God who created all peoples relies on us all to build partnerships of all peoples that offer hope and new lives to those who have suffered.”

This type of interaction from volunteers, churches, landlords and community members contributes to creating a welcoming community for those who are finding long term safety. In just three days time, the community has transformed the house into a home. From stocking the house with toys to placing a box of candy on each child’s bed, the team sweetened the arriving family’s transition to America.

CWS Lancaster continues to increase the number of Welcome Teams, finding new volunteers and by re-engaging those who have worked with us in the past. One such congregation, the First United Methodist Church in Lancaster, resettled two Iraqi families five years ago and assisted them in the process of integration. With the understanding that more refugee families need congregations to accompany them, they are rebuilding their Welcome Team and hope to welcome a new family in 2016.

We need more congregations like First United Methodist who have helped in the past to get reinvigorated in this current time of crisis as we will see an increase in refugees resettled over the next two years.

The CWS Immigration and Refugee Program has a network of affiliate offices that are located throughout the United States. These offices work hand-in-hand with local communities, churches, organizations and individuals to provide a welcoming and safe home for refugees. Get connected to a local office to see how you can sponsor refugees in your community and volunteer or partner with our local offices.
Additional resources, including advocacy resources, may be found at

Christine Baer is a Congregational Resource Developer and Halley Gradus is a Development and Communications Intern with CWS in Lancaster.