Current News

Sanctuary in Practice

By , Published on November 16, 2017

As part of my work with our Immigrant Ministry, I volunteered to contact individuals working with Sanctuary Congregations. On Saturday, Oct. 7, I spoke with Rev. Chris Jimmerson, who serves as the Minister for Program Development at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin, Texas. In this role, he has overseen the Sanctuary project at the parish. Rev. Jimmerson shared that this is the second time the parish has hosted someone in Sanctuary. As a Level 1 Sanctuary, the parish is supported by a network of other organizations, including churches as well as non-profit organizations. Through conversing with Chris, I learned that certain volunteer needs are always necessary when supporting someone in Sanctuary, but there are also unique needs based upon the individual living in Sanctuary. 

Basic needs include food shopping and other typical outside errands that are part of daily life, such as mailing letters, picking up medications if necessary, etc. Because the Austin church does not have laundry facilities on site, there are volunteers who provide off-site laundry service each week. Unique needs may be based on the person’s preference, such as whether they prefer to pass the time with visits and company or through more solitary pursuits such as reading or other hobbies. The current guest at the Austin church has been doing fitness activities with individual parishioners to help cope with the stress associated with fear of deportation.

In an effort to better understand how our own members might be invited to support a Level 1 Sanctuary Parish, I asked him if he could categorize the service areas needed in his church. He suggested the following:

Medical/Emotional Needs:  Examples might include fitness equipment or training; volunteer counseling and/or support groups, such as with volunteer therapists; transportation for family members who may wish to visit; on-site doctors visits.

Basic Needs: Laundry, groceries, social interaction as desired, mailing letters, retrieving mail, picking up and returning library books, picking up medications.

Volunteer Coordination:  Provide training for volunteers; serve as support to volunteer teams; help resolve issues that arise; provide reflection opportunities.

Media Campaign: In conjunction with ongoing efforts by area sanctuary sites to pressure ICE to withdraw the threat of deportation, tasks may include attending area meetings; posting/monitoring social media; outreach to other groups.

Security: Depending on whether site has means to control access to the building, protocols may be needed to screen who is entering the building, so multiple attendants for multiple access points may be needed.

Each sanctuary church and immigrant in sanctuary will have unique needs.  Please use the above as suggestions rather than requirements.

On November 19, at 12pm in the sanctuary, the Immigrant Ministry will host a town hall discussion and Q&A about the upcoming vote on First Parish becoming a sanctuary supporting congregation. Please join us and know all questions and comments welcome.


“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, it is whether we provide enough for those who have little.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt


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