At the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta, a sermon may just as likely involve a special service for the millennial generations or a wildlife discussion as it could Civil War reenactments and political discussion.
It’s this diverse type of liturgy that Rev. Marti Keller is known for at the Druid Hills church. This call to action and discussion is what makes her congregation special, she said.
The Atlanta reverend has made involvement with politics a congregational priority.
“It reflects sort of the love of neighbor. They’re not ‘other’. They’re our neighbors,” she said.
This is what she said drives their work.
“They call us the love people,” she said.
After Georgia passed a controversial immigration law that would allow police officers to question the immigration status of those detained on July 2, Kelley and her congregation were there in T-shirts advising people to “stand on the side of love.”
“There are millions of people already here that are living undocumented. What are the humane ways we can do this? Something has to be done with the millions of people that are already here.”
It’s these types of laws that Keller lobbies against, throughout the legislative process and through various humanitarian projects.
The focus so far has been on sermons, increasing awareness and speaking the “good word” about immigration reform.
“There’s got to be a way to recognize this so that there can be some sort of legal status. For states to pass laws that are mostly punitive isn’t right.”
In the future, Keller said she hopes to take a more hands-on approach by driving families without transportation to detention centers to see their families and hosting citizenships drives.
And of course, she said, she will continue to work to pressure the legislature for immigration reform.
“We want everybody on this side of town to recognize that we are a very large multicultural community,” Keller said.
Laura Murvation works with Keller as UUCA Vice Chair of the Racial and Ethics Concerns Committee to bring awareness about immigrant issues to the Atlanta area.
At 8 years old, Murvation arrived in the United States in the '70s at a time when having Latino family move into town was still a novelty. While her family has had amnesty for quite some time, she continues to share her story whenever she can.
After moving to St. James, MN, as an undocumented immigrant, Murvation and her parents worked in a meat processing plant. When she got older she worked in corn processing plants overnight collecting eggs in chicken coops which she describes as “the most disgusting job ever.”
The 1986 immigration act signed by former president Reagan allowed her family to obtain citizenship, but the year-long process had its low points.
“You never knew at any point along the way you could get kicked out of the country. As a child you never knew what to say," Murvation said. "You didn’t want your parents to get taken away, or if your parents would come home from work if there was a raid.”
After obtaining citizenship her sophomore year in college, she graduated with honors from a small college in Minnesota and went on to graduate school. Now she’s a business owner in the wine industry and continues to work on immigration reform for others in the same situation.
Murvation said she credits all of the work the congregation is doing to Rev. Marti Keller.
“What’s always important to me is that I want people to understand that we’re not looking for open borders or for all undocumented people to become citizens. It’s just about having laws that have some humanity with it, that you’re not breaking apart families unnecessarily, to change the system to be a more compassionate system and to focus on the unity of the family.”