There are many good things, important ministries our church could be doing. To be honest, there is always more we could do than we can actually accomplish.
So we use our sense of mission, and an honest evaluation of our expertise and experience to sort through and determine what we should undertake and what we have to let go of.
Sometimes, even when we believe a certain ministry makes sense for us, that we could do it well, we just don’t have the person-power to pull it off. We take that as a sign too — that if there is no one to do something — even something good and important — then that means it is not for us to do.
There are two implications of this that I want to point out:
~ the amount of service Old First can undertake is in direct relation to the number of people we include in our community. Not everyone has time and energy for church work and ministry, we know that. And we want to include people for more than the worker hours they provide for our ministry! (At least half of our ministry, after all, is the difference we make in the lives of people because they participate in our community!) Still, if we were twice our current size, imagine the work we could do?
~ when we have been doing a ministry for some time, even a beloved ministry, if there is no one who can keep it going, that means for us at Old First that it’s ok to let it end.
We have a specific case in point right now, a potential new ministry. The New Sanctuary Movement has approached Old First to see if we might be willing to accept into Sanctuary a Honduran woman and her two pre-K age children. She left Honduras under threat of gang violence, and has been in the U.S. undocumented for some years. Both children, born here, are American citizens. But she is facing a deportation order that she is defying and challenging by going into Sanctuary.
Old First has talked about a Sanctuary ministry before. In some sense, it could be understood as another aspect of our focus on homelessness. We had an Adult Forum where we talked about it some years back.
Part of our interest has been the advocacy piece, to offer a critique of U.S. immigration policy. But another reason for our interest has been the availability of the apartment in the CE building. “In a world where not everyone has a home, a fallow church apartment seems wrong,” someone said to Michael once. The New Sanctuary Movement visited to see the apartment and said “It’s the Cadillac of spaces for Sanctuary living — most often folks don’t really get dedicated, private space, an apartment.”
There is a whole process involved for the congregation to learn about and to commit to, actually to vote in a congregational meeting, declaring Sanctuary. But before we engage such a prospect, we need to see if we have any volunteers…
The Outreach SLG recognized the value of Sanctuary, but also knows, realistically, its leaders and workers were already spread too thin, carrying the Saturday Breakfast and Shelter Ministry. If Sanctuary means more work for our already identified outreach volunteers, sadly, it would be a good work that we just cannot undertake right now. But if Sanctuary might occasion a few new volunteers to step forward, then perhaps we should explore more…
The New Sanctuary Movement has 6 Center City congregations wanting to work on Sanctuary, so if we have new leaders identify themselves and if we voted to go ahead, we would not carry the burden of the ministry alone. Instead, we would constitute a ministry team made of Old Firsters and folks from these other congregations. They would be responsible for working with the family on their personal needs and the advocacy needs of their protest.
To help people think if they’d like to raise their hands, get involved, volunteer, here’s some Sanctuary basics:
Sanctuary is a faith response to the escalating attacks on immigrant communities. An individual or family moves into a congregation and publicly refuses to leave in defiance of their deportation. Hosting and supporting congregations work in solidarity with the family in this prophetic civil disobedience.
Immigrants in Sanctuary are the leaders of this movement. Those taking Sanctuary are putting everything on the line and are often risking a great deal for the benefit of the larger movement; their leadership, their voice, their opinions and wisdom should be prioritized at all times. If at any time a family wishes to leave Sanctuary, their wishes should be respected and celebrated.
There is a law against bringing in and harboring persons not authorized to be in the U.S. However, whether we are harboring someone is up for interpretation. Some courts have interpreted harboring to require concealment of a person, and Sanctuary is bringing them into the light of the community, not concealing them in the dark of secrecy (the authorities know exactly where they are). Other courts have interpreted harboring to be simple sheltering.
Immigration officials know that if they went into a house of worship to arrest a family or pastor they would have a public relations nightmare. Additionally, the Morton memo is a relatively new ICE policy that says ICE should not raid sensitive places like congregations and schools.
Though ICE issued a memorandum stating they will not enter a house of worship for purposes of detaining an individual for deportation, the congregation should have a rapid response plan and all staff should be trained in how to respond.
Sanctuary is a campaign; it is not just providing shelter. We will work together as a community to beat the deportation. This will require phone calls, letters, speaking with politicians, writing op-eds for newspapers, etc.
There is much more to know and understand, of course. And there will be many questions, and time for them. But Outreach SLG has asked, and the Elders have given a nod, that before going further, we see if we have leaders willing to get involved and work on a Sanctuary ministry. If you are interested, please let me know…
See you in church,