“I’ve been a Christian all my life,” said one man, who said he was a Baptist, “but if my church can’t say yes to this, I’m not sure what my church is for.” One woman, a Roman Catholic, stood to say, “The Church can’t exist just to give me the sacrament once a week and make me feel good about myself.” Three people at our table, all members of a synagogue in the western suburbs, nodded their assent.
We were at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in St. Paul, a small group from WBUUC on an icy, late November night. We joined 200 others from many congregations, at a quickly convened meeting, to which organizers had hoped 30 might show up. Alarmed by pre-election rhetoric now frighteningly real, interfaith leaders, clergy and lay, came out to say no to threats of massive deportations in a new Administration. In the midst of holiday planning and terrible weather, we came to say no to racism and fear. We came to say yes to neighbors, friends, students, colleagues, the undocumented people we know and the many we don’t; we came to say yes to our principles, as Americans and (in our case) as Unitarian Universalists. Organizers asked if our congregations would consider offering sanctuary (housing and support) to undocumented people who might be faced with deportation. One by one, clergy and laity in that church basement said yes.
More members have attended more meetings, and your Board (along with lead staff) has signaled its unanimous support. “How could we say no, and still be true to our UU Principles?” asked one member of the Board. Questions abound: Will anyone be assigned to us? How long will they stay? What country will they be from, and what religion? Could there be a backlash from our local community? What are the legal implications, and what might be the costs?
We are learning as we go, but it’s clear that this must be, at least in part, a leap of faith: a brave and principled religious response to an unprecedented threat of oppression and exclusion. Already, I’m amazed at members and friends who have stepped up to help, and at others from beyond our own walls.
The choice to help with Sanctuary is both a personal decision, and a congregational decision. The timing last month was urgent as this work began, and while we went forward with a clear public statement, that can yet be amended. Over the next few weeks the Board will host a number of open meetings to hear your questions, responses, concerns and ideas. Please attend, and speak with me, with Luke, or with Laurie Kigner, congregational President, if you have questions that can’t wait or if you’d like to help.
Questions abound, but some things are very clear: All people are beloved and all have dignity and worth, including those caught within and imperiled by a broken immigration system. Our congregation stands in a long tradition of radical hospitality. From the underground railroad to the founding of our UU Service Committee during the Holocaust, we have welcomed the stranger, sheltered the refugee, offered safe home, and resisted racism, fear and exclusion. That’s what our church is about—and our theme this month, salvation, the practice of healing, couldn’t be more fitting. In our tradition, we are saved by love.
We’ll hold congregational conversations on these January dates:
Sunday, Jan. 8 at 7pm
Wednesday, Jan. 11 at 7:30pm
Sunday, Jan. 15 at 12:30pm
Wednesday, Jan. 18 at 7:30pm
Sunday, Jan. 22 at 12:30pm
Wednesday, Jan. 25 at 7:30pm
Sunday, Jan. 29 at 12:30pm
-Rev. Victoria Safford