Reflections on Sanctuary: Guidance for Maine Churches

Reflections on Sanctuary: Guidance for Maine churches
By the Rt. Rev. Stephen T. Lane, Episcopal Bishop of Maine
April 7, 2017

pdf version

In the Anglican tradition, a sanctuary is the area immediately surrounding the altar. It it a holy space because it is here, at the altar, presbyters offer the Holy Eucharist to the people of God. The term, of course, goes back much further. The “holy of holies” in Solomon’s temple was known as the sanctuary, the place where the Ark of the Covenant resided. In both cases, the sacred status imbued the space with a sense of refuge and safety.

From the time of Constantine to the late Middle Ages across much of Europe, houses of worship afforded protection to those accused of crimes or debt. Indeed, English law recognized the church as a place of sanctuary from arrest from the fourth to the seventeenth centuries. Because the United States has never recognized such protection, the notion of churches offering immunity holds no legal sway beyond respect for the tradition.

However, sanctuary is our word. Sanctum means “holy” in Latin, from the same root we use to derive the word saint. Our churches should strive to be places of sanctuary – of safety, protection, support, and care – for all people, places of sanctuary from racism or any rhetoric that spews hatred or intolerance.

Over the past few months, in the wake of the travel bans and the uncertainty and fear they have elicited, I have been contacted by a number of Maine churches whose clergy and members are anxious to learn what and to what extent they can assist our neighbors who are fearful for their futures in Maine due to their legal status as refugees or asylum seekers.

Below I will attempt to offer definitions, guidance, and resources to assist members of our congregations in the good work of discerning the extent to which they will engage is “welcoming the stranger” to their communities. I think this discernment is important for each congregation to consider at both the parish and Vestry or Bishop’s Committee level and regardless of whether or not you are located in an area where New Mainers are settling. This is a conversation for all of us to enter fully and meaningfully.

DEFINITIONS

Some definitions might be a good place to start. I look no further than to

Signs available at www.welcomeyourneighbors.org/order-signs

those offered by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) at www.unrefugees.org.

Who is a refugee?
“A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries. Refugees legally enter the United States in search of freedom, peace, and opportunity for themselves and their families.”

Before they enter the United States, those who are granted refugee status have been subjected by a lengthy and thorough security process by the UNHCR and the US Department of State. The federal government contracts with agencies – often faith-based organizations such as Episcopal Migration Ministries – in each state to handle the resettlement of refugee families. In our state, Catholic Charities of Maine is the only agency that resettles refugees for the federal government. They offer orientation, employment, and cultural adjustment, and many other services to those refugees assigned to Maine. In recent years, Catholic Charities has resettled refugees from more than 30 countries. In 2016 they resettled 642 recently arrived refugees in Maine.

Who is an asylum seeker?
“When people flee their own country and seek sanctuary in another country, they apply for asylum – the right to be recognized as a refugee and receive legal protection and material assistance. An asylum seeker must demonstrate that his or her fear of persecution in his or her home country is well-founded.”

Asylum seekers often arrive in the US on a legal visa. Once they overstay that visa, they are no longer authorized to remain in the US. If they are fearful to return to their home country due to war, violence, or instability, they may apply to the US Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) for asylum. Currently there are about 300 pending asylum cases in Maine, and the wait for an interview with the South Portland office of USCIS can be many years because only 30 interviews are offered each year. Six months after applying for asylum, an asylum seeker may be granted a work permit in order to be legally employed while waiting for an interview. Asylum seekers do not have access to resettlement services provided to those who have secured refugee status.

WAYS FOR CHURCHES TO OFFER SANCTUARY

  • Offer support, a safe gathering place, friendship and mentoring relationships to refugees and asylum seekers.
  • Offer preaching and teaching to members of the congregation that upholds our Baptismal Covenant and Gospel mandates: seeking and serving Christ in all persons, respecting the dignity of every human being, loving our neighbors as ourselves, welcoming the stranger.
  • Offer membership in all aspects of the life of the congregation: worship, service, formation, education, music, outreach.
  • Cooperate to the minimum extent required by law if immigration or enforcement officials seek to enter church buildings to check papers, question, or detain people participating in our worship or activities of the church community. It would be a violation of the law to prevent an immigration agent with a warrant listing the name of an individual and signed by a federal judge from entering your church.
  • Volunteer, as a church community or as individual members, with community agencies that serve refugees and asylum seekers, donate money and resources, engage in advocacy in the public sphere.

A recent survey by the New Mainers Task Force of Maine Episcopalians showed that there are many needs within New Mainer communities and many ways to support and assist them.

Needs identified by the New Mainer communities include:

English instruction, housing deposits, disability support, friendship/mentoring, meeting space, assistance with professional/educational credentialing, utilities, food, clothing, employment, transportation, household items, furniture, computers/cell phones.

Organization to support:

Catholic Charities of Maine https://www.ccmaine.org/refugee-immigration-services

Immigration Legal Aid Project ILAP www.ilapmaine.org

*Hopeful Links – support for unaccompanied minors in Maine – Contact Lucky Hollander at lucky.hollander@gmail.com

*Trinity Jubilee Center in Lewiston www.trinityjubileecenter.org

*Tree Street Youth – services for children in Lewiston – www.treestreetyouth.org

*St. Elizabeth’s Essentials Pantry based at St. Luke’s Cathedral in Portland http://stlukesportland.org/pages/general/st-elizabeths

*St. Mark’s Outreach Ministries – a range of programs that serve people in Augusta including newly arrived families from Iraq and other war-torn countries http://twoonine.org/ministries/

*Compassionate Housing Initiative in Yarmouth, offering temporary housing for newly arrived Mainers, http://www.uuyarmouth.org/justicework-refugees.php

Mano en Mano – supporting migrant agricultural workers in Washington County http://www.manomaine.org/  

*recent awardee of a grant from one of the following diocesan funding sources: New Initiative Fund, Domestic Poverty Grants, Bishop’s Discretionary Fund,

News stories and online resources

http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/12/churches-discuss-becoming-sanctuaries-for-undocumented-immigrants/

http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2017/03/29/512072151/sanctuary-churches-who-controls-the-story

http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2017/02/01/episcopal-church-stands-with-refugees-immigrants-and-the-undocumented/  

http://www.dailynews.com/social-affairs/20170318/how-some-churches-are-preparing-to-offer-literal-sanctuary-to-fight-trumps-policies  

http://religionnews.com/2017/03/19/analysis-new-sanctuary-movement/ 

https://www.nhepiscopalnews.org/blog/2017/4/4/guest-blog-the-greatest-commandment-is-never-easy

Welcome signs in three languages for free linked at “Welcome Your Neighbor” Facebook page or https://www.welcomeyourneighbors.org/order-signs  

The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles – Task Force on Sanctuary’s website, Sacred Resistance
http://www.lasacredresistance.org

Resources from Episcopal Migration Ministries

http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2017/04/04/trumps-immigration-policies-force-reduction-of-episcopal-churchs-refugee-resettlement-network/

https://vimeo.com/39648553   — Video about allies

http://www.episcopalmigrationministries.org/learn_more/resources_for_churches.aspx  

http://myemail.constantcontact.com/Can-we-count-on-you-.html?soid=1120909577537&aid=093UjOeVLq8   (liturgical resources and more)

PDF of powerpoint on EMM shared at the House of Bishops https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/19179943/HoB%20Presentation%20-%20EMM%20-%20Distributed.pdf   

From Las Vegas to Millinocket

Following my recent meeting with the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance, I flew to Las Vegas to be part of the Living Stones conference. Living Stones is comprised of about 20 member dioceses, all of which have small congregations and many of which are using a Total Common Ministry approach to parish leadership. Total Common Ministry is rooted in the belief that all the required gifts for ministry can be found in the community and that teams of community members can be formed and ordained or licensed for the necessary ministries. Total Common Ministry is often found in communities that can no longer afford a priest, but the purpose is to expand the ministry of the community, particularly among the laity. (In Maine, we have no Total Common Ministry teams, although we have made extensive use of ordained teams utilizing deacons.)

The purpose of the Living Stones conference is to present case studies of new ministry efforts and experiments to small groups who offer insight and critique to help the new effort succeed. The Revs. Michael Ambler and Heather Blais presented a case study about the new effort to build a team ministry between Grace, Bath, and St. Philip’s, Wiscasset, involving two full-time priests, one of whom is a new priest.

We were meeting in Las Vegas because the rooms were cheap ($25/night), but it happened that we were there during Super Bowl weekend, one of the most important weekends of the year in Las Vegas. Circus Circus, where we were staying, was completely jammed with people. As it turned out, nearly 300,000 people came to Las Vegas and wagered nearly $90 million dollars on the Super Bowl.

The contrast between what we were doing at Living Stones and what was happening all around us was incongruous and, at times, overwhelming. Some conference goers felt that it was absolutely wrong for us – and disorienting – to meet in Las Vegas. And others felt that in Las Vegas we were confronting head on the cultural change that is all around us in our churches. Thousands of ordinary people were present for some time off, to have fun, and, perhaps, to get rich. If our message can’t address Las Vegas, is it adequate to the times we live in?

I’m not sure we were much noticed by the folks in Las Vegas – and we didn’t try to get noticed – but I’ve been thinking ever since about the relevance of our message for a nation that sees the
Super Bowl as one of the most important events of the year. How willing are we to embrace that world, to try new things, to take our message of love and hope to where people are?

My visitation the next weekend was in Millinocket, the lovely contemporary worship space of St. Andrew’s. We shared in the adult baptism of a person who was previously unchurched, but who found a welcome and a home in St. Andrew’s. And we announced on that morning that a new ministry is beginning between St. Andrew’s, and St. Thomas’, Winn, who will work together with the Rev. Lev Sherman as their rector.

It’s an idea which presents new possibilities and hope for both communities. It will allow both to have a resident priest present on a regular basis. It promises to be more efficient and to create great possibilities for combining strengths and sharing ministry. But ultimately it will depend on effectively proclaiming God’s good news to people of those economically distressed communities.

Millinocket and Winn may not seem like Las Vegas, but they represent, no less than Las Vegas, the changing landscape in which we are trying to share the Good News.

+Steve

a week in the life of a certain bishop and a peek at his new office

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=krt9ybwE0pE&hl=en&fs=1]

Clergy Retreat Planner, the Rev. Jonathan Appleyard of St. Saviour's, Bangor; Retreat Speaker Br. Curtis Almquist, SSJE; Bishop Lane
Clergy Retreat Planner, the Rev. Jonathan Appleyard of St. Saviour's, Bangor; Retreat Speaker Br. Curtis Almquist, SSJE; Bishop Lane
Bishop Lane meets with the wardens and vestry of St. Barnabas, Augusta
Bishop Lane meets with the wardens and vestry of St. Barnabas, Augusta

Getting a taste of Maine: From Biddeford to Munjoy Hill by way of Cape Elizabeth

+Stephen blesses the altar and baptismal font at St. Alban's, Cape Elizabeth
+Stephen blesses the altar and baptismal font at St. Alban's, Cape Elizabeth

One of the joys of the Diocese of Maine is the diversity of the parishes and their ministries. Today I got a good taste of that diversity.

The morning began with confirmation at Christ Church, Biddeford. Neither Google Maps nor my GPS is much good with the tight twists and turns of an old Maine city downtown. We got lost twice after getting off 95, but managed to find South Street and the back door in good time. Team Bowen (the Revs. Shirley and Peter) met us at the door, and we sat for a while with those preparing for confirmation. After a joyous service and reception, the Vestry and I met to discuss Christ Church’s many ministries and the development of their Jubilee Center. Christ Church has been identified as a “warming center” and the parish is preparing to receive folks who will need a place to get warm this winter. There was just enough time for lunch with Shirley and Peter before Gretchen and I left for Cape Elizabeth.

The Children's Waterfall

We met the Rev. Jim Adams at the rectory of St. Alban’s for conversation before a reception and the dedication of St. Alban’s new Peace Garden. The Peace Garden is a stunning outdoor worship site which combines a eucharistic space, a small amphitheatre and a columbarium/burial ground. Benches and walkways are woven through plantings and trees. A stone table and font provide focus for the worship area. A Children’s Waterfall, offered in memory of children who have died, is a unique feature of the garden. Two years of imagining, designing and building went into the creation of a marvelous space for prayer, meditation, rest and worship – truly a garden for the communion of saints.

A quick trip into Portland brought us to Grace Church, Munjoy Hill. Grace Church meets in old St. Lawrence Church, now a community center. Munjoy Hill is one of the most densely and diversely populated places in all of Maine. Staffed by the clergy of St. Alban’s (Jim Adams, John Balicki, and Audrey Delafield), Grace Church hosts an informal Eucharist every Sunday at 5:30 p.m. Folks come from all over the area. Today, amidst the scenery for a production of “On Golden Pond,” we celebrated a baptism and confirmation. Although we were a little constrained by the need to be out before a 7:30 pm performance, we managed to preach, baptize, confirm, celebrate Eucharist and still have time for a party!

Somebody asked me today what I like best about being bishop so far. I said, “Meeting all the people and learning about their ministries.” There’s a lot of good ministry happening in very different places in the Diocese of Maine.

+Stephen