ECHO PARK — After ministering to an eclectically diverse community for 32 years, Pastor David Farley of the Echo Park United Methodist Church will be leaving his longtime flock for a new appointment as the head of the United Methodist Church’s Department of Justice and Compassion for the Southern California/Hawaii Conference.
Southern Californian born and raised, Farley came to the church with a myriad of experiences, starting with observing his own father, who served as a pastor in the 1940s and 50s. Farley spent time in Chile in 1972, which opened his eyes to the plight of people living on the edge. Later he worked with a variety of folk: students at the Boston University School of Theology, inmates at the Walpole State Prison in Massachusetts, and the middle-class residents of a Rolling Hills congregation.
Yearning to be with the people who, as he says, “are in the midst of things, people struggling and marginalized,” Farley lobbied hard to be appointed pastor at the Echo Park church – and he got the job. Farley arrived at the church during the heyday of the Sanctuary Movement, when churches of all denominations opened their doors to house Central American immigrants.
What was that like back then?
Echo Park was an entry point for so many immigrants back then … and it still is today. I came right when Archbishop Romero was assassinated and we were taking in the overflow from La Placita [the main Catholic Church where refugees were being directed to stay]. We were not a radical congregation, so we couldn’t officially declare our church a sanctuary but we consciously were sanctuary. We had people living here, families who escaped El Salvador. We had people here who not only were running from the government, but also from the guerrillas. It was an intense time, but that experience forged new relationships with individuals and organizations that are still going strong today.
You were recently in Washington D.C. to protest for immigration reform. Did you get arrested?
Yes I did. We are involved in the New Sanctuary Movement which is a different strategic approach. It’s a broad way that faith communities can provide support and resources by lobbying and speaking out. I’m the chairperson for our immigrant reform task force and we are involved in setting up networks of immigrant clinics and citizenship workshops. Volunteer lawyers – some very good ones, I may add – give free consultations, which can be very important. Our current process is such a mess. We have Filipino members trying to get paperwork for a family member for 20 years.
How can you spiritually console people facing such difficulties?
I think I’m the one consoled and inspired by them. You don’t make it across a desert with a family without a lot of faith and spiritual resources. The bible is a wonderful source to minister to the immigrant community because it is the story of human migration. It’s about immigration and crossing borders, welcoming the stranger and practicing hospitality. The stories are about the presence of God in the human journey. It’s one thing to have bible studies with professionals, but to be with people who are really living biblical stories is powerful. That’s another reason I’ve been around her so long!
We understand that you play guitar and write songs. What’s the most requested song during immigration rallies and protests?
You know, it’s still “We Shall Overcome.” Never goes out of style. Everyone likes to sing along with that.
If you could write a song about leaving your congregation what kind of imagery would you use?
There was a song I wrote a long time ago that wasn’t about this, but maybe it was and I didn’t know about it at the time. It’s a song about endings and beginnings, and the eternal presence though it all that connects and sustains us. The refrain comes from scripture:
God’s steadfast love endures forever;
Through wind and flood and stormy weather
God’s steadfast love endures forever;
Each day is new again to carry us through again
God’s steadfast loves endures forever;
It will enter through your broken heart
Just when you think your life is through
That’s the time to start to live again.
Brenda Rees is a writer and resident of Eagle Rock.