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Local church becomes sanctuary

<esponse to the election of President Donald Trump and his proposed implementation of a mass deportation program, the First United Church of Christ voted on Sunday, Dec. 11 to become a sanctuary church.

Located on the corner of Union St. and 3rd St., this congregation founded Carleton College in 1866, incorporating many of its progressive and social justice values into the college.

“By declaring sanctuary, we have committed to providing refuge to undocumented immigrants facing an immediate threat of deportation,” Reverend Todd Lippert said. “This is stepping into some civil disobedience space. Just as St. Augustine and Martin Luther King have said, unjust law is not law at all.

“We’re saying with sanctuary that mass deportations is not a humane response to immigration. We need other solutions, and it is a way for us to stand with other churches to resist the proposed policies of the new administration and the deportation of our immigrant neighbors.”

While sanctuary status is not a legal designation, “currently, the immigration and customs enforcement has a policy that they will not go into community sensitive areas to deport someone, which includes churches,” Lippert said. “So that is part of the space that churches step into with this.”

Since December, the church renovated part of their facilities to provide a living area for any individual or group that may need to be protected, including installing a shower.

“After the election and when the new administration was saying that their goal was to deport two to three million undocumented immigrants in the first year, there were churches that were having conversations about joining the sanctuary movement,” said Lippert, “So then that conversation started at First UCC and it felt like a very natural step for us to take, and there was a lot of energy behind it,” explained Lippert.

According to Lippert, the church community voted overwhelmingly to become a sanctuary church.

“There were people who said at the meeting when we voted, ‘I feel like Christianity is coming to light for me for the first time through us deciding to do this.’ Somebody else said, ‘When I was a child, I literally thought that the church was a stable, that it was a place where people who weren’t able to find shelter could find shelter,” he said.

Carleton’s Chaplain, Carolyn Fure-Slocum is a First UCC Church member. She is grateful that her congregation decided to become a sanctuary church, as she believes the decision works for change on both a city and state level.

“As Christians, I believe we are called to ‘welcome the stranger’ and to ‘love our neighbor as ourselves.’  This love of our neighbors is about both meeting the immediate needs of people and changing the social structures that harm them,” she said.

A group of Carleton students is currently mobilizing to assist this nearby church if someone needs to use the facilities as refuge. Over 110 students signed up for an email listserv dedicated to raising awareness and spreading possible volunteer opportunities, such as stocking the church with supplies or preparing the basement as a living space.

Student volunteers may also be needed to staff the church when people are staying at First UCC, as many other sanctuary churches adopted the practice of stationing a U.S. citizen in the building 24/7 to act as an extra deterrent to immigration officers who may try to enter the premises, according to Lippert.

One of the student organizers, Sanders McMillan ’17, added that, “I know there is also a task force on campus right now working on compiling immigration-related legal resources, and there will definitely be some cross-coordination between that group and the work being done at the UCC.”

Among the First UCC congregation are people who could be affected by mass deportation, including one family who is at risk of being removed from the country.

Additionally, many members of the church both identify as a part of the local Latino population or possess intimate ties with the community, a group disproportionately impacted if President Trump implements his campaign promises, said Lippert.

“We’re also working with leaders in the Latino community to keep our finger on the pulse of what needs to happen now, and we are encouraging elected leaders to be responsive to immigration policy changes and to stand up in resistance to new directions that would be harmful to immigration policy as much as possible,” said Lippert.

“If there is anything specific that we need to respond to, that would be a great place for Carleton students to plug in also.”

“Churches have a long history of declaring sanctuary and saying the church sanctuary should be a safe space for people who are under threat,” said Lippert.

As explained in a recent New York Times article, the concept gained national attention during the Vietnam War when churches offered shelter to men trying to avoid the draft.

During the 1980s, fleeing refugees from Central American nations entrenched in civil war found safety in U.S. sanctuary churches.
Since President Trump’s election, the number of sanctuary congregations has doubled, according to the New York Times.

In Minnesota alone, over 20 churches have joined the movement in the last few months. The majority are located in the Twin Cities. Since the First UCC’s decision, Lippert has also spoken with religious leaders from across the state who are still considering sanctuary status.

At a press conference for churches who declared sanctuary in early December, “There were Lutheran churches, there was a Unitarian Universalist congregation that declared sanctuary, and there was an independent Evangelical congregation that declared sanctuary, as well.

“It felt like these threats of mass deportations violated their Biblical values. There are Catholic priests speaking out against this and saying that their congregations will declare sanctuary also, so it is a pretty broad movement across denominations,” said Lippert.

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