The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America declares itself a sanctuary church body…
What does this mean?
Response from Pr. Russell Meyer, Executive Director of Florida Council of Churches
The ELCA Churchwide Assembly meeting in Milwaukee became the first denomination to declare itself “a sanctuary church body”. There are two things to understand. First, how this declaration works across the church, and second, what sanctuary means today in contrast to its biblical use.
First: in the ELCA, each congregation will decide how and if it will be involved in sanctuary ministry. This decision by the Churchwide Assembly does not mandate or obligate congregations to do anything specifically.
Second: sanctuary refers to a wide variety of activities, depending on a local context. For congregations, sanctuary may mean providing space for people to live; providing financial and legal support to those who are working through the immigration system; or supporting other congregations and service providers. It may also mean hosting English as a second Language (ESL) classes, marching as people of faith against the detention of children and families, providing housing for a community member facing deportation. In some of congregations, it may mean having thoughtful conversations about what our faith says about immigration. To declare ourselves a sanctuary church body says that we seek to provide concrete resources to assist the most vulnerable who are feeling the sharp edges of the broken immigration system.
In 2016 the churchwide assembly established the AMMPARO strategy (Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities) to walk alongside Central American children and families fleeing their communities.
Through the AMMPARO strategy, Welcoming Congregations work on migration issues and welcome immigrants into their communities. Currently 151 welcoming and sanctuary congregations form an active network. Welcoming congregations support organizations and faith communities that work with deported migrants in Central America and advocate for the humane treatment of immigrants in Mexico. The ELCA also has five sanctuary synods (our regional structures), all of which do work with immigrants, refugees and asylum-seekers. Through our global partners in Central America we work to alleviate the conditions that cause people to migrate.
Our nation suffers under a broken immigration system and political impasse. Once successful refugee resettlement programs are being shut down. Internationally recognized and lawful processes for receiving asylum-seekers have been suspended. Meanwhile, human suffering increases, children are separated from their parents, families face extreme violence and poverty in their homeland, and our country has the capacity to show compassion and offer safe harbor. As in the parable of the Good Samaritan, we are not the ones who pass by on the other side of the road; we are the ones who draw near to those hurt on the side of the road. So we welcome the immigrant, refugee, and asylum-seeker into our sanctuaries.