Sanctuary Church Movement Growing in MN Conference

Yes, MOVEMENT is indeed what is happening in our Conference when it comes to providing “Sanctuary” for immigrant families facing deportation.

The Sanctuary Movement traces its roots to the 1980’s, when many congregations were led to provide housing and other assistance to Central American refugees who were being denied asylum by the United States.  Today the movement is experiencing a resurgence.  In 2016, 400 congregations of various traditions were “sanctuary congregations”; since the Presidential election, that number has increased to 800 nationwide. UCC congregations participating in the movement have gone from 15 last year to 50 most recently.

Several congregations in the MN Conference are among that number.  At least 5 congregations have already voted to be either a Sanctuary Church or Sanctuary Support Church.  Several others are in discernment about the possibility.  On February 18, the Minnesota Conference Immigration Team led a forum on Sanctuary and Becoming an Immigrant Welcoming Congregation.  There were 45 people in attendance that represented 13 churches.  The Immigration Team will be offering another forum at Pilgrim Point in the spring (details available soon).  In the meantime, they are always willing to do a presentation in your congregation.  Simply contact Diane Haines to arrange for that.

Here’s what some of our churches said about their journey in discernment about becoming either a Sanctuary Supporting or Sanctuary Church:

  • Rev. Eliot Howard of Linden Hills UCC, Minneapolis was interviewed on Minnesota Public Radio yesterday (listen to the entire interview and their story on this topic here) and he said “I personally felt the tug of conscience and faith and got out ahead of things by declaring Linden Hills church a sanctuary congregation.”  He had heard stories from teachers in the congregation about Latino students afraid to go to school or worried for their parents’ safety.  “That frankly, overruled the decisions and attention to process,” he said.  There is also a lead story in the Star Tribune today on this topic with their own interview with Eliot.  You can read that article here.
  • Rev. T. Michael Rock of Robbinsdale UCC says: We became a Sanctuary Congregation in December 2014. We took this leap of faith with the support of Rev. John Gutterman and the MN Conference Immigration Team. We heard the stories of two families in our congregation who lived through a deportation experience and we vowed to do what we could as a congregation to not let that happen again. We feel blessed with many resources and relationships and feel that becoming a Sanctuary Congregation was central to our faith and understanding as people of Radical Hospitality in the United Church of Christ.
  • Rev. Todd Smith Lippert in Northfield shared: On December 11, 2016, First UCC declared itself a sanctuary, a place of refuge for undocumented immigrants facing an immediate threat of deportation.  We made this declaration because we feel that current immigration policies are a violation of Christian values.  This is one way we can love and stand with our immigrant neighbors.  Our Sanctuary Team has created a living space in our church (see photo).  We invite other congregations to become a part of the sanctuary movement.
  • Rev. Emily Goldthwaite Fries says “Mayflower Church became a Sanctuary Supporting Church by a vote of our Church Council this spring and announced this to the congregation on Easter Sunday to much applause. We partner with Robbinsdale UCC, in the event that they host someone we would be right there providing support and amplifying the story of immigrants’ struggles in the fear of deportation. A year ago, you may remember the primary force driving the need for Sanctuary was the Obama administration’s raids – often targeting people who had actually come to the US seeking asylum during the summer. Our congregation hosted two listening sessions to hear feedback, which followed an intensive and well-attended series of educational offerings on immigration issues. The main concern we heard was, what if the need becomes even greater after the coming election? That question seemed far-off at the time, but it guides us now in discerning how to respond to this human rights crisis in these days. We encourage other churches to join in this movement.”
  • Rev. Robin Raudabaugh, pastor at Union Congregational UCC in Elk River, shared: “Union Congregational UCC  is immersed in the process of how to move toward becoming ever more immigrant welcoming.  Our goal is to declare ourselves a sanctuary church by first being a sanctuary supporting church as well as encouraging our members and friends to participate in vigils, conferences, being early responders to churches who may be further in the process than we are.  Elk River is a community with a relatively large population of Central American and Mexican folks – many who come to work in potato fields.  We are currently as church deep in learning, conversing, and moving toward declaring our inclusion and hospitality to all who need it.”

There are several resources that can help inform and guide congregations’ discussion on the Sanctuary movement.

The Conference holds in prayer those who are ready to serve as Sanctuary or Sanctuary Support churches and those who are in discernment on this question.  And we hold in prayer also those who today live in fear of being deported and separated from their families.  We remember holy scripture:  “When an immigrant resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the immigrant.  The immigrant who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the immigrant as yourself, for you were an immigrant in the land of Egypt.” (Leviticus 19:33-34)

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