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Sanctuary and other Church Actions



noun  /’ sæηk-tζu,er-i/

  • protection or a safe place, esp. for someone or something being chased or hunted. The storm’s survivors took sanctuary in the church.
  • A sanctuary is a place where birds or animals can live and be protected. a wildlife/bird sanctuary
  • A sanctuary is the part of a church where religious ceremonies happen: Nan and her parents found seats in the sanctuary for the service. 

There are many ways to contribute to providing protection and safe places for those at risk in our communities today. No one person, nor one church can provide all that is necessary for the safety of immigrants without documents in our communities today, nor for Muslims, or anyone facing bullying, harassment, or hate crimes. Working together, though, we can come closer to a vision of a world that is sanctuary, not just our church buildings, but the whole community where everyone may feel safe, protected, and loved as a child of God.

Sanctuary Everywhere

Sanctuary Everywhere  is a call for creating safe spaces for all people everywhere. It’s a big dream, and a worthy one from many the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). Their web site has many useful resources for seeing how our the schools, the streets, the city, and the church buildings can be sanctuaries.

Sanctuary in the Streets is a project of the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia which has gone beyond the church buildings to form a well-trained response to an ICE attempt to detain someone in their home by creating a faithful sanctuary in the streets, taking the church out into the streets to work to protect and keep safe a community member.

Great Image and Resources from IMiRJ 

Sanctuary is only fully realized when there is Sanctuary for EVERYONE. Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice has a wonderful set of resources to help envision the wide breathe of how being sanctuary can reach across the community and many forms of engagement by the church. Each church and community must develop the sense of sanctuary based on their context and the leadership of those at risk..

Rapid Response Networks or Extended Sanctuary are other terms used to describe a community that is organized to respond to an ICE raid, or bullying or harassment, with different people and varied organizations assuming different roles:

  • Providing community education around immigration, Muslims and/or “Know Your Rights,” to help stay safer from detention and prosecution, including just getting stuff printed and circulated.
  • Checking to see if rumors are true and documenting events
  • Carrying out Public Prayerful Witness
  • Providing childcare, legal services, food, or transportation
  • Raising funds for legal services, bail, and needs of families separated by a detained or deported loved one.
  • Providing mental and spiritual care
  • Accompanying people to immigration meetings or immigration court
  • Working with schools, colleges and universities to be sanctuaries for their students
  • Working with local governments, police and sheriff’s departments to create policies and practices of welcome, respect and sanctuary.
  • Providing volunteers and/or funding for community, church and national organizations working for justice for immigrants, working against racism, and against religious discrimination.
  • And, perhaps, providing a place for people to stay temporarily, or for a person or a small number of carefully chosen persons to stay for days, weeks or months as they seek to get legal immigrant status.

Churches are bodies of Christians, who may or may not have a building that is useful for people to live in. There are many opportunities for a church as a whole body, or a sub-group of people from within the congregation, to take action in support of undocumented immigrants and others at risk in the community. And church members are also individuals involved in workplaces, markets, schools, community organizations, local government, sports and study groups, the library, theater or music groups, as well as being involved in the activities of the local church. In all the other places we, as followers of Christ, interact with other people and the world, we can choose to contribute to making this world a more welcoming, just and merciful place. Let us be LIVING SANCTUARIES.

Liturgical Resources: for use in and out of church buildings, for internal prayer and for public witness

Discernment and Tools for Being Sanctuary

Many of these tools focus on being a sanctuary in which your congregation decides to offer your church building for a residence for an immigrant or immigrants at risk of deportation a place to live while working to adjust to a legal immigration status. However, they all also recognize that there are support congregations and roles, and that there are many other equally important roles in providing accompaniment, and creating safety for immigrants. 

Sanctuary Church Toolkits  are a packet of information to help churches learn about, and then discern whether or not they are gifted and called to be a physical-live in sanctuary for some immigrant or immigrants in danger of deportation. Here are two recommended toolkits:

Sanctuary Toolkit from the UUA

Sanctuary toolkit – best written: This toolkit is the best written, clear and complete guide to sanctuary at the moment, while not being longer than others. We are grateful to the Unitarian Universalist Association for putting this together for people of all faiths.

Sanctuary toolkit for the UMC produced by the General Board of Church and Society includes various understandings of sanctuary, practical considerations, Biblical and UMC reflections, useful links, and talking points to encourage discernment.

Immigration 101 for Allies and Service Providers is a recording of a live presentation given for people from various service organizations, including churches, to provide an overall understanding of the current situation of immigrants and what supportive roles may be useful. The Video presentation (2 hrs 22 minutes) and the accompanying slides go together. The video shows the speaker but the slides are not readily visible, plus the slides have been updated since the video was made. The program was sponsored by the Seattle Public Library Foundation, the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and the Seattle Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs

ACLU FAQs on Sanctuary Churches and Harboring responds to many of the questions regarding using a church building for and with undocumented immigrants. There is also a copy of an actual judge’s warrant to help distinguish it from an ICE issued-warrant which does not require the opening of the door. Please be reminded that churches should seek specific legal representation if they are doing significant work with people who have an order of deportation or that ICE or other legal agencies are looking to detain.

Advisory to Nonprofit Organizations and Social Service Providers.  This advisory provides some helpful additions to information in the above document written specifically for churches. There is information here to help churches make appropriate decisions and preparations regarding building use. There is also a copy of what a judge’s warrant looks like. This is the only kind of warrant for arrest or search that is legally binding.