This past weekend, February 10-11, PPF had the privilege of hosting a Sanctuary Training with the Synod of the Northeast, the National Sanctuary Movement, and the Community of Living Traditions. This was “part 2” of an ongoing commitment to equipping and training people of faith to do the work of Sancutary, a movement whose roots go back centuries but who most of us know from the Sanctuary Movement of the 1980s to protect Central American immigrants who were facing deportation from the United States after fleeing here to escape violence in their own countries–violence that was largely caused by US imperial policies.
The Sanctuary Movement is, at its heart, a solidarity movement. Churches and other houses of worship and faith use their space to provide refuge for people who are facing deportation. Since the election in November, the number of faith communities who have declared themselves part of the Sanctuary Movement has more than doubled. But what does it mean to be a Sanctuary Church?
Close to 90 people registered for this training to learn just that. When we began planning for this event in December, we thought about 40 people might come, so we were shocked and thrilled that so many people were asking and craving answers to that question. What it tells me is that we are more ready and willing than ever before to embody active nonviolence as a means of resisting policies and rhetoric of hatred, exclusion, xenophobia, and racism. Many of us, more than ever before, found ourselves asking “what do we do now?” after Trump was elected. Of course, we should have been asking this question all along, and many have been, but there is also so much more energy now among faithful people who feel compelled to act against this hate. So we say “vamos adelante”–let’s go forwared–together. In that spirit, dozens of people of faith gathered at Stony Point Center this past weekend to learn how to do this work of Sanctuary and solidarity with undocumented immigrants.
Many of us are familiar with the idea of Sanctuary as using our spaces to house people who are facing deportation. This can last for days, weeks, and even months. Several of these cases have been very public, raising awareness about the injustices of our immigration policy and giving a story and a face to the Sanctuary Movement. This work is also probably happening very quietly and privately without publicity, especially in communities of immigrants and people of color for whom extra attention would be a liability. This work may begin to be less publicized in a Trump administration if the federal and local governments begin doling out harsher punishments for those who provide sanctuary in this way. That is yet to be seen.
However, offering Sanctuary and being part of the Sanctuary Movmenet can and should also look like many other things as well: hosting Know Your Rights trainings and offering childcare, letting immigrants rights groups and organizers use your printer or building space for meetings. Offering Sanctuary and solidarity can look like many things, but the most important thing is that it is solidarity work–that means listening to the people who are most affected by these policies. For those of us who have documents and/or are citizens of the US, this means our ideas and thoughts about what “should” be done or what Sanctuary “should” look like take a back seat. Our first task is to show up and listen, to build relationships with people who are most directly affected–immigrants–and listen to what they need.
This was a point that Amy Beth Willis (National Sanctuary Movement organizer) and Joe Paparone (organizer with Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State) both emphaisezed repeatedly during our training, as did Jessica Vasquez-Torres during an anti-racism training that was an essential part of our training and an essential part of solidarity work.
We hope that there will be more of these trainings. If you are interested in learning more, please stay in touch with PPF and check out the resources listed on the National Sanctuary Movement site, which includes a congregational toolkit. The webinar PPF did with the Synod of the NE is also recorded and can be used freely without permission. Shannan Vance-Ocampo has also shared a reflective Bible study based on Ruth 1 that can be used in your own contexts, and Aric Clark spoke with Southside Presbyterian Church pastor Alison Harrington in a dynamic conversation about the gospel mandate to offer Sanctuary.
If you are part of the Synod of the Northeast, there is also a network forming, and you should be in touch with Amaury Tañón-Santos if you are interested in being part (Amaury.Tanon-Santos@synodne.org).
Please let us know how PPF can support you in this work, and if you are engaging in Sanctuary work or even just engaging the question of “should we become a Sanctuary church?” we’d love to hear from you. Vamos adelante!