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By: Bianca Vazquez, Director of the Steinbruck Center Hostel at Luther Place

Sanctuary can mean many different things — all rooted in creating safe and livable communities. While undocumented immigrants are the primary targets, we know that African-Americans, Muslims, and others may need sanctuary as well. These congregations, which cross many different faith traditions, are taking a prophetic stand and affirming their dedication to protecting communities of color, immigrants, refugees, and deportation protection policies, such as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
Being a sanctuary congregation can mean many different actions: 
  • Hosting know your rights training
  • Organizing around our city being a sanctuary city. 
    • As a congregation we are engaging with the Washington Interfaith Network and doing listening sessions with immigrant communities, churches, and mosques around the city. We will work together to build power and create a city that is more just. With regards to immigration, this is a very important strategy pre-detainment and deportation.
  • Rapid response team to show up at ICE raids or accompanying people to ICE check-ins.
  • Hosting someone in your building or supporting a congregation that is
    • Sanctuary in this way is a service of public witness and claiming the moral narrative around immigration. The individual already has a deportation order and is trying to get a stay.

Bianca wrote this poem after a meeting in which congregations across the DMV were discussing how to best offer sanctuary.

There’s something special about church basements
filled with dreamers and activists and church ladies
The believers who know in their bones –
that the words of the brilliant Audre Lorde – are true:
Despair is a tool of your enemy
And facing the realities of our lives
Gives us motivation for action

And because I believe that to be gospel,
I also believe we all need sanctuary.

The president is going to do or say something
that will knock the wind out of us
frustrate and enrage us
emotionally activate us

We cannot allow ourselves to be stuck in that place
of continuous and perpetual and unrelenting
outrage and anguish
Because in order to save us
our minds will make that the new normal
We will adapt and no longer be able
to muster outrage
Only apathy and disheartenment

What is profound – is to see love as resistance —
and to understand we all need sanctuary —
Safe spaces that support our growth, our freedom,
to support proactively the things we’re called to do

Sanctuary is nothing new:
The list could go on and on
Of the times we have used our buildings
to save our souls
The underground railroad during slavery
Sanctuary for women during women’s suffrage movement
During the Vietnam war – sanctuary for conscientious objectors
In the 80s — sanctuary Central American Refugees
And today – sanctuary to protest the detention and deportation
of millions of immigrants

Sanctuary is a word derived from the Latin sanctuarium,
which like most words ending in –arium
is a container for keeping something in—
in this case holy things or perhaps holy people.

Sanctuary is for all of us who are under attack
Not just Muslims and not just immigrants
but Black Lives Matter and our undocuqueers
and all the rest of us who will be if we stand together

We must offer sanctuary to everybody
A place to heal our
broken hearts and broken bodies
as the system is set up to dehumanize us
to reduce someone to a terrorist or a criminal alien
or just a uterus or an outside agitator

And it strikes me – it has always been about
creating a space to recognize the
holiness of ones that the system discards
To take a stand against the practice of
taking away names and stories and humanities

Sanctuary is one of our most holy histories
and we must never forget to keep alive —
to be reminded who we are in the retelling
and find our purpose in that memory.

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