Ann Arbor opens sanctuary doors

The Rev. Robert Roth (2nd from right), Becky Dean (center front), and Erik Wong (left) stand with those who attended the Immigrant Hospitality Team meeting in August 2017. The date marked the start of the creation of action groups to coordinate sanctuary assistance efforts. ~Facebook/First United Methodist Church of Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor First UMC and Wesley Foundation at U of M have joined the sanctuary movement.

SARAH DeHAAN
Michigan Area Communications Intern

In our current political climate, it can seem as though love and compassion can be found few and far between. Since the election of the current President of the United States, Donald Trump, the number of arrests of undocumented individuals has risen by 33 percent and over 54,741 by March 13, 2017, according to an article published by Newsweek. Headlines about deportations have been in the news and the atmosphere seems bleak. However despite the negative outlook, churches throughout the U.S. have been providing hope to those in need.

Churches like First United Methodist Church in Ann Arbor, Michigan, have been providing sanctuary to those who are in danger of arrest or deportation.

“Sanctuary refers to the act of protecting an undocumented immigrant from family separation due to deportation or detention,” Becky Dean of the Wesley Foundation of Ann Arbor and the FUMC of Ann Arbor said. “It is an act of faith for churches and other faith communities to commit to providing a safe space for immigrants in this situation while they seek legal assistance.”

First UMC of Ann Arbor began their conversation about joining the local sanctuary movement after Dean and Erik Wong of the Wesley Foundation of Ann Arbor attended a community training for faith leaders around immigration issues and sanctuary.

“The was training organized by Michigan United and a couple other organizations to provide training on what sanctuary means, where does it come from, what some of the operations details, and generally bring that movement and the mechanics of it to people and to Christians in that Ann Arbor Area,” Wong said.

As the conversation grew, and the participation of FUMC of Ann Arbor became more of a reality, the members of the church also prepared for the newest change to their church. The congregation came with open hearts and open minds to joining the local sanctuary movement, but most of all, they had a welcoming spirit to love one’s neighbor, according to Dean.

“Becky and I organized five separate rounds of trainings with different speakers to talk about the sanctuary movement, implications, challenges and we got the church to take a vote early in June of last year,” Wong said. “And as a result of that, our church has agreed to become a level two solidarity church.”

When beginning to have the conversation about becoming a sanctuary church, overall First UMC of Ann Arbor chose to become a solidarity congregation to support churches that are willing to host families in sanctuary, according to Dean.

In an effort to truly be an effective part of the sanctuary movement, First UMC of Ann Arbor formed an Immigration Hospitality Team. This immigration Hospitality Team is currently coordinating efforts to promote sanctuary in other congregations, fundraise for supporting urgent sanctuary needs, and prepare to support an immigrant family when someone takes sanctuary.

“The immigrant Hospitality Team has hosted several educational sessions to increase our church’s awareness of immigration issues,” Dean said. “We also continue to stay connected with WCS congregations.”

For the majority of these undocumented individuals, a church that is providing sanctuary to those in need can be the definitive element that keeps them with their family.

On top of the local sanctuary movement, the Wesley Foundation at the University of Michigan has also deepened their commitment to the sanctuary movement and the education surrounding it by immersing themselves in culture at the Lincoln United Methodist Church in Chicago, Illinois.

“As our commitments [to the sanctuary movement] deepened here at Wesley, we decided to go on Spring Break to Lincoln United Methodist Church in Chicago,” Chaplain and Director of the Wesley Foundation at the University of Michigan, Bob Roth said. “They have really opened their doors, literally and figuratively, and a lot of their congregation now is immigrants, first generation, and many families with at least one undocumented [person].”

Lincoln United Methodist Church is a sanctuary congregation, and are very active with the sanctuary movement, which allowed students to get a first-hand look into the sanctuary ministry. Throughout the course of the spring break trip, students were able to not only help around the church itself, but also participate in a various acts of social justice with the younger congregation members.

The trip to Lincoln UMC not only allowed students to get their hands dirty, but it also shone a light on the humanity behind the sanctuary movement. As Christians, human beings, and United Methodists, our Discipline and our Book of Resolutions all point to this being a normal part of our daily lives.

“I believe that [what] the Book of Resolutions says is really important to act on,” Roth said. “’Welcoming the migrant is not only an act of mission, it is an opportunity to receive God’s grace,’ we call upon all United Methodists to welcome migrants in their communities, to love them as we do ourselves, ‘to treat them as one of our native born, and see in them the presence of incarnated Jesus.’ So the core of our faith, we’re called to love and accept migrants, immigrants, refugees, as part of our community.”

Whether it’s a trip to Chicago to get a glimpse into the world surrounding Lincoln United Methodist Church, or participating in a training focusing on educating people on the sanctuary movement, or lending a hand to congregations that are sanctuary churches, there are countless ways to get involved. There are thousands of families that have been separated by detention and deportation. With the changing of immigration laws in the United States, the atmosphere surrounding immigrants and the sanctuary movement is getting increasingly more hostile.

“They’re here, they’re part of our community already,” Roth said. “So when they’re under threat, part of our call as Christians is to be there for them.”

For more information about the sanctuary movement, visit http://www.sanctuarynotdeportation.org/.

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