This week’s blog has been generously offered to members of the Sanctuary Working Group to share with you why the concept of Sanctuary is so important to them.
Gathering for meetings since last spring, members of the Sanctuary Working group have been hard at work collecting information to better enable our congregation to decide whether it is called to offer physical Sanctuary to an individual, couple, or family who is at risk of deportation. In the last 8 months, there has been a great increase in detentions for deportation and thus a growing anxiety within the undocumented community. Many have stopped driving and are fearful of showing up to their ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) appointments. It has been made clear to those of us doing this work that the need for Sanctuary is unquestionable. Obviously the need for physical Sanctuary is just one of many justice-related crises presently facing our local community. Why are the members of UUCA’s Sanctuary Working Group so passionate about this issue?
Cecilia Rawlins, a member of the Sanctuary PR team, has traveled to many parts of the world. Her encounters have convinced her that all people want better lives for our children. As a former school principal, the needs of children have always been at the top of Cecilia’s personal list. Learning that the children of undocumented immigrants are increasingly terrified of what might happen, refusing free lunches at school so they don’t get their parents in trouble, and having meltdowns if their parents are late picking them up at their bus-stop has tugged on Cecilia and other group member’s hearts. “Contrary to what has been said in Washington, DC, immigrants to this country are not rapists and thieves. Instead, they are hard workers in this community.” Cecilia speaks of being repulsed by what is happening to the members of this community. She does not feel that she can make changes on a big, national level; however, she feels there is the possibility of making a difference in her small section of the world. Working on Sanctuary at UUCA is Cecilia’s attempt to make a difference. As the closing quote on the bottom of any email from Cecilia proclaims, she invites all to “Be the change you want to see in this world.”
Sharon LeDuc, who is on the Sanctuary Legal Team, says this work is important to her because she believes in “loving, respecting, and supporting others, especially the weak and marginalized.” For Karin Eckhert, a member of the Sanctuary PR group, this work is extremely personal. Karin experienced the fear and unknown of being a refugee as a child. We hope that Karin will be sharing her story with the congregation at a future Sanctuary Town Hall meeting. Nancy Bragg, member of the Program Team, reflects that she is by her nature, “a doer” and an “early adopter” especially of “ideas that resonate” with her. She says she “jumped onto the Sanctuary bandwagon” because it resonated with her “values and UUCA values and seemed like the right thing to do.”
Katie Winchell, another member of the WNC Sanctuary Liaison Group, also speaks of the worth of members of the immigrant community. Her lifestyle has allowed her to get to know various members of this community. She is distressed by our broken immigration system which is harming so many who are willing to do the jobs so many of us are unwilling to do. Members of this community are hard workers who pay into the social security system with no expectation of receiving any benefits from it. Like Cecilia, she is shocked by the characterization of these members of our community as criminals and thinks “we should be wary of this system which is criminalizing them.” Katie hopes she “would have been the person that helped Jews escape the Nazis, and been part of the Underground Railroad that helped slaves escape their oppression.” “Resisting unjust laws and standing up for human rights,” she says, “seems the right thing to do.” She feels this is her “opportunity to take a stand for those who can’t speak up for themselves, but deserve more respect for their life choices.”
Many members of the Sanctuary working group have been regularly attending WNC Sanctuary meetings since the beginning of the year. They have been impressed with how many members of other congregations want to work on this issue. And yet dismayed to find out that no other congregations in our area feel able to offer physical Sanctuary at this time. This reality has made this work all the more important to the group who have also been made aware of the reality that undocumented immigrants also pay taxes yet are not eligible for Food Stamps, Medicaid, ACA insurance, Disability, or any other public programs paid for by their tax dollars. Immigrants are on their own to make it in our community. So Sanctuary members have wondered, “how can we show solidarity in this moment?”
Other working group members have pointed to words of their fellow congregants that continue to inspire them in pursuing this work. One RE parent proclaimed, “What a good push! I would love to see this come to life.” Other adult members have said that they are “honored to belong to a group who will do this!” and that they are “happy to see that this is being seriously pursued.” A potential new member shared their gratitude for the potential of offering Sanctuary as a meaningful action embodying our UU Principles.
Sanctuary Working group facilitator, Elizabeth Schell, struggled with the decision to take on this project in the midst of the ongoing work she’s been trying to challenge our congregation on in relation to our commitment to the Movement for Black Lives. But the more she reflected on it, the more she realized that voting to provide physical Sanctuary would allow this congregation to truly lean in to the teachings of anti-racism work and the Movement for Black Lives: by following People of Color leadership; by leaning in to discomfort and taking risks; by leveraging our privilege and our resources; by enabling us to get proximate to a need; by allowing us to answer with hope to a world presently filled with messages of fear and scarcity. Elizabeth’s experience at General Assembly this past June solidified this understanding as she heard many of these practices echoed by Black Lives of UU as they challenged the whole denomination in this intersectional work.
Some have wondered about the sensibility of pursuing providing physical Sanctuary at this time — when our congregation is in the midst of staff transition, financial struggle, and discernment about our Mission. Yet what better time than this? Not only is this an urgent need within our community (locally and beyond), it actually dovetails with all the discernment work of the congregation. Last spring the congregation centered our focus in on four values that we hold dear: Connection, Compassion, Inspiration, and Justice. Providing sanctuary allows us to put our UUCA values into action as we continue our discernment process.
Providing physical Sanctuary will build Connections: between those stepping up to volunteer; between our faith community and other congregations (of all kinds) who are stepping up to support us in this work; between our congregants and the immigrant community (those who will be in sanctuary as well as coalition partners who we will work with in providing sanctuary). Providing physical Sanctuary is an embodiment of our Compassion towards those in need. It allows us to move outside individual selves and our congregational self to embrace a need within the community we live in. Providing physical Sanctuary can inspire us through the relationships built and the possibilities for future engagement that we imagine through this work. Providing physical Sanctuary is us responding to an injustice and creating space for justice to be made visible. Providing physical Sanctuary enables us to do justice in many of the ways that we are called to.
We encourage you each to look into your hearts and vote accordingly at the upcoming congregational meeting.
Congregants are invited to the Friday night Service & Sanctuary Presentation at Congregation Beth Ha-Tephila this Friday, August 25 at 7:30pm. The evening will include presentations from members of CIMA (The Compañeros Inmigrantes de las Montañas en Acción) and Rev. Lisa Bovee-Kemper.
Also save the date of our next Town Hall on THURSDAY, SEPT. 28, 6:30pm. As part of this special meeting, we will be welcoming JoAnn Weiss from El Refugio which is a hospitality house and visitation program outside of Stewart Detention Center (SDC) in very remote Lumpkin, GA. A member of the UU Congregation of Gwinnett in NE Atlanta, JoAnn will share with us about the work of El Refugio and the current climate of immigration detention and deportation in our country. Other potential Sanctuary partners and leaders in the Sanctuary movement may also be present. Please join us for this meaningful conversation towards helping us discern about providing sanctuary. There will be space for further questions about the Sanctuary proposal.
Stop by the Earth and Social Justice table on Sunday with any questions or to learn more about the work of our Sanctuary group. Also keep looking for our regular announcements and updates about Sanctuary in the weekly E-news and the inserts in the Sunday Order of Service. We hope you have completed the survey which gives you the opportunity to ask any necessary questions and share your support, questions, thoughts or concerns. The Sanctuary survey can be found here.
Members of the Sanctuary Working group include: Ann Perry, Beth Gage, Cecilia Rawlins, Elizabeth Schell, Geri Solomon, Jackie Iskovitz (from Beth Ha-Tephila), Jan Beech, Joe Maio, Julie Stoffels, Karin Eckert, Katie Winchell, Nancy Bragg, Ron Sanga, Sharon LeDuc, Susan Dupree, Venny Zachritz, and Virginia Bower.