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BY CHRISTOPHER VERGARA

August 11, 2019

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ELCA members march to protest ICE
"The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America just became the country's first 'sanctuary church body'" via CNN.

"The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which represents nearly 3.5 million Christians, voted Wednesday to become the country's first 'sanctuary church body,' according to church officials.”
 
 “‘…for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’”
- Matthew 25:35-40
 
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), this week at its 2019 triennial churchwide assembly declared itself a Sanctuary Church-body, one of the first mainstream church bodies to do so. The movement was spearheaded by the Metropolitan New York Synod (MNYS), one of the 65 synods of the ELCA, who declared itself sanctuary in 2017. Reading this one might ask a very Lutheran question, “was ist das?”, what does this mean? Sanctuary, as outlined by the memorial from the MNYS, is understood to mean more than just a provision of shelter but a RESPONSE to raids, detentions, deportations, and the criminalization of immigrants and refugees; a STRATEGY to fight individual cases of deportation, to advocate for an end of mass detention, and to amplify immigrant voices; a VISION for what communities and the world can be; and a MORAL IMPERATIVE to take prophetic action of radical hospitality rooted in the ancient traditions of our faith communities. 

How could we live into this declaration? The work of sanctuary cannot be done alone but would need to be in partnership with organizations like Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Lutheran Social Services, The New Sanctuary Coalition, and the ELCA’s own AMMPARO program which commits to accompany migrant minors with protection, advocacy, representation, and opportunities. Together we can work to develop a network of sanctuary ministry sites, coordinate accompaniment trainings (being silent advocates during check-ins or hearings,) create a plan for awareness building around issues of immigration and refugees, and advocate for just immigration policies including fairness in admitting and protecting refugees. We will work for the ELCA to endorse, fully support, and help train congregations seeking to declare sanctuary, creating a network of sanctuary across our synods, whose work could include: reaching out to nearby immigrant communities, expand or redevelop existing programs with a focus on reaching out to immigrants and refugees, create and distribute “Know Your Rights Cards” to undocumented persons, reach out and network with other sanctuary congregations to share support and information, provide short term respite sanctuary during immediate crisis, train in and participate in accompaniment programs, participate in the ELCA’s AMMPARO program for unaccompanied minors, and host immigration consultations with legal professionals for immigrants.

Why declare sanctuary and commit to this work? Holy Scripture consistently and constantly reminds us to care for the stranger among us. We cannot forget that the Holy Family were refugees in Egypt fleeing Herod’s violence.  We must acknowledge that the Lutheran church in America is an immigrant church. Our Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton told us at our assembly that we, Lutherans, have a unique voice needed in the public square. Declaring ourselves a sanctuary church-body, is about how we talk about the work we are doing, and historically have done, broadening the language we use to describe that work, and using language that the world understands. We must not think that we do this work because God is in need or help in the work of salvation, we do this work because our neighbor is in need. We must remember we have been claimed, gathered and sent into the world, for the sake of the world at such a time as this, so let us open our doors and get ready to welcome the divine.

Learn more about how the ELCA accompanies migrant minors through its AMMPARO program. https://elca.org/ammparo

Connect with a local chapter of the New Sanctuary Coalition or immigration advocacy group and attend an accompaniment training where you learn to be a silent advocate during check-ins and hearings. They also provide a number of resources to learn and share. https://www.newsanctuarynyc.org/ 

Share KNOW YOUR RIGHTS cards, also know as Red Cards, with vulnerable people in your communities. https://www.ilrc.org/red-cards 

If you would like to learn more, get involved, or support the Sanctuary/AMMPARO Ministry in Metro New York City please email us at info@mnys.org.

 

O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen 
—Vesper’s Prayer from Evangelical Lutheran Worship
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