First Parish is currently considering becoming a Sanctuary Level 2 congregation, a role in which we would support a Level 1 congregation housing an immigrant family. Tabby Rappolt recently attended trainings for Sanctuary volunteers. This is her report.
It was a dark and stormy night. Hot too. No place to park, either. Welcoming light poured from the door of the tiny church where the smiling sanctuary team welcomed a couple hundred people into the modest hall, urging us to help ourselves from the table piled with ice-cream treats “before they melt”. The team told us about meeting at least weekly for several months, the ready support, financial and spiritual, from their denomination, the excitement in the parish. They spoke of connecting with agencies, immigration lawyers, and the level one sanctuary in Cambridge. We introduced ourselves with name, reason for being there, and organization or parish. Wellesley Friends came out in force. There were LOTS of synagogues. There were unions, community social action groups, and several churches. I was the lone UU (embarrassing! I thought we were proud social action leaders).
We were told what it would mean to be a volunteer: 1) individual sign up by email (forms dump into an Excel spreadsheet) for what skills and time we were willing to offer 2) attend a free two-hour evening training by the Massachusetts Communities Action Network – several offered nearby during the summer and more to come throughout the year, and 3) sign the Newton Sanctuary and Solidarity Collaborative Covenant which committed us to following the Collaborative’s guidelines and respecting the procedures, requirements and guidelines of the level one church. The signing was individual only unless you had been authorized to sign on behalf of an organization. I signed for me since I had no authority to sign for First Parish. We were given a tour of the area set aside for the “guests”- two bedrooms with air mattresses and little else so as to emphasize to any town inspector that this was a temporary arrangement, not a violation of zoning law covering tenant housing in a public building, though temporary could mean up to two years. There was a nice eat-in kitchen, a sitting area/playroom, and a bathroom, about to be enhanced with a shower. I spoke to the sanctuary committee, offering my skills in database management for processing the volunteer forms into work schedules. On the way out I visited the cozy sanctuary – half the size of ours. A tiny congregation to take on so much!
A few weeks after joining the Newton Collaborative as a level 3 (individual) volunteer I went to the MCAN training in Brookline. Actual duties are simple. You can sign up on your volunteer email form to: do laundry, shop, drive sanctuary dwellers to appointments, take children to school/pick them up, be a sanctuary presence. The being present is to discourage ICE showing up, documenting what happens if they do, handling requests from the sanctuary dwellers (call a plumber, put an item on the shopper’s list, usually report issue to volunteer coordinator). Presence is always two people for 2-6-hour shifts 24/7. They are near the living quarters, but not in them. They can socialize with the dwellers, or provide some child care if the dwellers want them to.
Mainly the training is about attitude. You are there to support the dwellers, not manage them. No invasive personal questions, no unsolicited dietary or parenting advice. Basically, respect them as you would any other normal adult. That also means respecting their privacy – no gossiping about them, no photos, no contacting media without their permission. In fact, we are encouraged not to identify the people or the sanctuary except in the vaguest terms ( e.g. ”a church in Newton”, “people in sanctuary in Newton”) if we must discuss them to discourage identifying them in ways that will make it hard for them to live normally when they leave. And they will leave. These are always people in process of obtaining permission to reside and work here legally who fear that they may be deported before their case is decided. They are working with an immigration lawyer who has advised them to seek sanctuary. We were told that to date ICE has NEVER come into a church. But if they do show up: Only let them in if they show you a warrant signed by a judge. Move the dwellers into the sanctuary. Call the volunteer coordinator. Take pictures of the arrest in the sanctuary. The immigration lawyer will want those photos. Do not block ICE. Just take pictures.
It was a pretty intense two hours. I was heartened to find other UUs in attendance. The Brookline UU church is a level two supporting the Cambridge level one sanctuary which already has a people in sanctuary.
I have also been to a seminar sponsored by Temple Beth Shalom – Immigration 101 – presented by a local immigration lawyer on the legal aspects of sanctuary and sanctuary volunteers. Bottom line – yes, you are engaging in civil disobedience. No, you aren’t likely to be arrested unless you pepper spray an ICE agent. Presently, I am part of the Needham branch of the Newton Sanctuary collaborative. We meet as needed at Temple Beth Shalom. Beth Pinals heads the group and is our representative to the Needham Collaborative which meets every Monday night. If you want to volunteer at the Newton Sanctuary, she is the person to contact.