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   

Calling for a just and humane budget

On Wednesday, February 22, Maine Episcopalians and members of eight other faith communities gathered in the Hall of Flags in the Maine State House for a prayer vigil for a just and humane budget as the Joint Committees on Appropriations and Health and Human Serves held a budget hearing down the hall.

Prior to the vigil the Rev. Maria Hoecker, president of the Standing Committee and rector of St. Columba’s, Boothbay Harbor, offered testimony on behalf of Bishop Stephen Lane. Bishop Lane had planned to testify but was brought low this week by a respiratory bug. (He’s on the mend!) Hoecker and Rabbi Susan Carvutto spoke before

Photo courtesy of Maine Equal Justice Partners

committee members with 35 Maine clergy standing behind them.

Here is the text of Bishop Lane’s testimony, with details of local impact contributed by Hoecker.

February 22, 2017

Good morning Senator Hamper, Representative Gattine, Senator Brakey, Representative Hymanson, members of the Joint Committee on Appropriations and Financial Affairs and members of the Joint Committee on Health and Human Services.

My name is Maria Hoecker. I am an ordained Episcopal priest and I serve as the rector of St. Columba’s Episcopal Church in Boothbay Harbor. I share the following testimony on behalf of The Rt. Rev. Stephen T. Lane, the Episcopal Bishop of Maine. Bishop Lane intended to be here today, but, due to illness, has asked me as president of the Standing Committee to present testimony in his stead.

As one of many church leaders who take the example and teachings of Jesus to heart, (so many are with us in prayer and standing here with me today) I believe the moral measure of any budget is how the most needy among us – “the least of these” – fare in our society. I encourage you to resist passage  of a budget which undermines the lives, dignity, and rights of vulnerable Mainers living in poverty, particularly this budget with its punitive cuts to anti-poverty programs that provide access to food, healthcare, and general assistance.

Over the past five years, cuts to MaineCare, SNAP, and TANF have resulted in plunging poor children more deeply into poverty. Currently the rate of children living in families with a household income of $10,000 or less for three people is eight times greater than the rest of the U.S. These children are our future and we are letting them down.

For those new to our shores, those deeply invested in crafting for their families a new and promising life among us, it often takes six months to obtain a permit to work from the federal government. General assistance for asylum seekers is a small, time-certain investment in those who enrich our communities with their hard work. Welcoming the stranger is a strongly held value of all major religions and, as a church leader, I can attest that our congregations welcome  partnerships with community organizations to share in offering welcome and support.

In the Boothbay Region where I serve, representatives from the private/public sector meet every month to connect safety nets for our neighbors. Representatives from our local nonprofit charities, the churches, schools, state/local officials, and townsfolk meet monthly to pool our resources. This includes funds from private/non-profit sources, funds for general assistance, and numerous state/federal programs. Together as a team our resource council is able to connect with and support our neighbors who are falling through the cracks of our society. While we utilize every resource available to us, too many souls are still suffering in our midst.

No problems we face in Maine are solved by the additional cuts called for in this budget. Rather, as proposed, it will fray the safety net for thousands of our neighbors and jeopardize the well-being, both now and in their future – of our youngest, most vulnerable citizens.

When confronted with Jesus’ words that the “poor shall always be with us,” the 20th Century Catholic activist Dorothy Day replied, “Yes, but we are not content that there should be so many of them.” Nor am I.

I will tell you that the non-profits are staggering under the weight of these budget cuts to the poor. We are struggling to gather enough resources to care for our neighbors. Non-profits exist to do the work that the government can’t do well. We rely on a public/private funding partnership to offer this life-giving work.

As you can see, representatives from all faiths and nine denominations are standing before you today. We will be gathering for an all faiths prayer vigil in the Hall of Flags at 11:30 a.m. As you seek to serve all people in Maine, we pray that each of you are graced with wisdom, strength and compassion for our neighbors. Thank you for the opportunity to share our concerns with you today.

At the prayer vigil, Hoecker offered this prayer before the 125 people present. Click here for a PDF of this prayer. Video may be found below.

Maine State House ~ February 22, 2017 ~ A Prayer Vigil for a Just and Humane Budget

A Prayer for All Faith Communities offered by the Rev. Maria Hoecker

Honoring our diversity and our unity, I invite you to call upon what is highest and deepest by the name you hold sacred and dear, either silently or aloud. (pause)

Creator of all,
You are Love, Mercy, Justice and Goodness.
You are the Beloved One calling out to all of our Communities of Faith in Maine.

Be present to us, as we strengthen our own awareness of Your Presence.
Guide us as we discern the direction of your will, your love, your flow,
each of us moving toward our faith in You.

You are present within all who dwell in our streets, temples, synagogues, mosques, homes, and churches. You bind us one to another,
in our villages, our farms, our boats, our cities, our state, our nation, and our world.

God of All, work through us as we heed your call to feed the hungry and care for the sick.
We grieve the presence of injustice and we name the pressing need for reconciliation.
Together, our actions unite us in our care for all souls both near to us and far away.

We welcome weary travelers as they make their way to our shores and doors.
Through our being and belonging, we are called to build up the bonds which reconnect all who are separated from You.

We are a community of many faiths:
Together we are cacophony of conscience and caring,
we are many voices confronting all evil which destroys lives and shatters families.

God of all names,
we value and respect the diversity of our faiths and heritage.
When shared together, our separate stories call us to deeper truths.
Help us to listen to each other. You bear more wisdom than any one of us can fathom.

Spirit of All, bless our communities of faith with compassion.
—we are made through You and through You we reflect the diversity of your abundance—-
you generously provide for all Creation, but only if we share in the care of all Creation.

Strengthen our faith communities to fulfill your mission here in Maine;
give courage to those who heed your call; shield those who are in peril for their beliefs;
for we all stand stronger together in your strength and mercy.

God of many names, be with us,
guide us in the ways of peace and justice for all.
May it be so. Amen.

The Rev. Maria Hoecker offers prayers at the Interfaith Prayer Vigil for a just and humane budget at the Maine State House

Posted by Episcopal Diocese of Maine on Wednesday, February 22, 2017

From WCSH-6: http://www.wcsh6.com/news/politics/clergy-low-income-immigrant-groups-protest-dhhs-budget/412858887

A Pastoral Letter to the People of the Diocese of Maine

February 1, 2017

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
John 12:32

The last several months have witnessed a period of upheaval and political conflict in our nation such as I have not seen since the height of the Vietnam War. Many people are angry and bitterly opposed to one another, and some are finding it hard to listen to one another and to discover common values and aspirations. We are in danger of making one another aliens and strangers in our own land.

In this context, I call you to affirm that God loves us all and that we are all members of a single human family. Moreover, our Savior Jesus Christ died for each one of us. The Episcopal Church in Maine will continue to be open to all persons without regard to race, color, national origin, sex, sexual identity, or political party. We will continue to pray for the welfare of all, including our elected leaders. We will continue to exercise radical hospitality and inclusive participation in all aspects of church life. We will “respect the dignity of every human being.”

Episcopalians have always been able to come together at the Lord’s table across difference, and now might be a time to practice this particular gift together.

At the same time, as followers of Jesus, we will continue to preach the Good News of God in Christ and to “seek and serve Christ in all persons.” Our ministries with the poor, the sick, the stranger, and the alien have not and will not change. I will continue to speak out on issues of related to immigration, refugees, poverty, and war and peace. The recent decisions of the new administration regarding immigration have made some of this work more urgent, but it is work we know well and will continue to do. I invite you, no matter your politics, to invest yourself in your local communities and to work with other Episcopalians through our Maine Episcopal Network for Justice. If you haven’t been involved, now is a good time to jump in.

We will also continue to work with other churches and members of other faiths to create secure communities where all are safe and all have the opportunity to grow and prosper. Our good relationships with the Jewish and Muslim communities are sources of strength, and we will remain faithful partners with them.

The particular opportunity we have before us may be the chance to participate in the development of new understandings between people who have different visions for our country’s future. We might well host – first in our congregations and then in our communities – conversations about important community issues, seeking to learn from each other how and why we differ and what hopes we might share. Episcopalians have always been able to come together at the Lord’s table across difference, and now might be a time to practice this particular gift together.

“Fear Not” Stained glass over the altar of St. Columba’s, Boothbay Harbor

At the core of our current struggles is fear: fear of change, fear of loss, fear of the other. None of us is untouched by the changes of the last 40 years. All of us have experienced the loss of something we cherished. Jesus’ most frequent admonition was, “Fear not.” Fear not. God is with you. Our hope is not simply in what we can create as individuals or as a nation. Our hope is in God, who loves us and cares for us. In all that we do we need to turn to our God, to trust in God’s presence with us, and to share God’s love with others. “Perfect love casts out fear.” 1 John 4:18

I write to you with a deep sense of thanksgiving for your faithfulness and for the work you do on behalf of Christ. I know you will make conscientious, faith-based choices and will live into your convictions, even at the risk of misunderstanding. I invite you to trust that you are not alone. I walk with you. And Jesus walks with you. We must remember that Christ meets us in our weakness. It is on the cross that Jesus overcomes death and sets us free to live new lives. It is in that new life that we now walk together.

Faithfully,

+stl

The Rt. Rev. Stephen T. Lane
Bishop of Maine

___

download as a pdf on letterhead

Bishop Lane on the 2016 election

“This may be the time to claim our vocation of embracing all God’s creation, all God’s children.”
                                      Bishop Stephen T. Lane on the morning after the 2016 election

He also posted this message and invitation to prayer to Maine Episcopalians on election night:

Dear friends in the Diocese of Maine,

In the midst of all the division and polarization in our state, our nation, and our world, in the midst of disrespect and name-calling, we are invited to be kind.

In the midst of all the violence, the wars and rumors of war, we are invited to be gentle, to make peace.

In the midst of calls to take sides, to choose for ourselves and against others, we are invited to be friends with all, to seek Christ in every person and to respect the dignity of every human being.

Going forward after this long season of politics, we need the calm, steady, kindly presence of people who are not flapped by what is happening around them, who believe that God is with them and that God can be trusted come what may.

Tonight we elect a President, not a savior. What we’re doing in the polling booth is a reflection of our values and our commitments.

The manner in which we conduct our lives is a sign of the trust we have in God and that all things are possible with God. In the midst of our many lamentations, may we have confidence in God’s presence among us.

Please pray with me this prayer from the New Zealand Prayer Book:

Lord,
it is night.

The night is for stillness.
Let us be still in the presence of God.

It is night after a long day.
What has been done has been done;
what has not been done has not been done;
let it be.

The night is dark.
Let our fears of the darkness of the world and of our own lives rest in you.

The night is quiet.
Let the quietness of your peace enfold us,
all dear to us,
and all who have no peace.

The night heralds the dawn.
Let us look expectantly to a new day,
new joys,
new possibilities.

In your name we pray.
Amen.
(from Night Prayers, the New Zealand Prayer Book)