April Minister’s Column

Dear Ones:

I want to share my learnings from the March 18th “On Being a Sanctuary Congregation” presentation by the Rev. Paul Fleck, along with members of the UU Church of Meriden and First and Summerfield Methodist Church, New Haven. It was a powerful and inspiring presentation, attended not only by UUS:E members and friends but also by members of at least three other local congregations.

First, I learned about the urgent need to provide sanctuary, especially in our region where no congregation is yet doing so. Deportations have increased dramatically in the last year. Most discouragingly, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is now deporting people who don’t have criminal convictions; who have minor children who are U.S. citizens; who are primary breadwinners for or caregivers to family members who are citizens; who are married to citizens; who have been living and working in the U.S., paying taxes, and contributing to their communities for decades; or who came to the U.S. to escape ecological disaster or political or gang persecution in their home countries. The federal government’s treatment of such people is immoral and disgraceful. As a Unitarian Universalist who affirms the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and justice, equity and compassion in human relations, I can no longer tolerate witnessing this escalation in deportations, this breaking apart of families, this returning innocent people to extreme poverty, hardship, and even death. If we, as the Unitarian Universalist Society: East, can help such people avoid deportation, I am convinced we should do it.

And I am convinced we can do it! Why? First, our building is incredibly well-suited for this purpose. We have a shower, laundry facilities, 2 kitchens, 6 bathrooms, and lots of rooms. Wherever we might house someone, it would be slightly disruptive to the normal flow of our congregational life; but it would be a small price to pay for living out our principles.

Second, we can set clear parameters around the terms of our sanctuary offer. This is not an open-ended housing arrangement. It is only a last resort for someone who is about to be deported. If we offer sanctuary to an individual or family, we can (and truly must) confirm that they have competent legal counsel and that we are providing housing only while they have active legal options in progress. If their legal options become exhausted, then they would be forced to leave the country. They would not stay with us in perpetuity.

Third, we won’t be in this effort alone. There are a number of networks providing support and funding for immigrants facing deportation. Already, the leaders of United for a Safe and Inclusive Community, Manchester, have pledged their support for UUS:E if we choose to go this route. Participants in the March 18th presentation said they were overwhelmed with the outpouring of community support and funding. The UU Church of Meriden is projecting a surplus of sanctuary funds once their current guests have resolved their legal issues.

Finally, the Meriden and New Haven congregations said they have found sanctuary work to be life- and faith-affirming. They have made new connections in their communities, including with the police, and their congregations feel alive and inspired.

Of course, this is a congregational decision. The Policy Board is currently discerning next steps. It is likely we will establish a Sanctuary Committee that will be responsible for creating a plan that can be quickly executed in the event we are called on to offer sanctuary. If you are interested in working with such a committee, please let me know. Also, I am very interested in hearing the opinions of people who have reservations about becoming a sanctuary congregation, and I welcome your feedback at revpawelek@gmail.com or 860-652-8961.Rev. Joshua Pawelek

With love,

–Rev. Josh