Written by Anthony Moujaes
Called to protect and stand with immigrants facing detention and deportation, a California congregation of the United Church of Christ has opened its doors, ready to offer sanctuary to vulnerable neighbors in the San Mateo community.
Congregational Church of San Mateo won't be alone in this work, though. Following separate but simultaneous votes in late February to offer physical sanctuary space to those facing deportation orders, Congregational Church of San Mateo and the Unitarian Universalists of San Mateo are actively encouraging and supporting the City of San Mateo in becoming a Sanctuary City.
"For us, providing refuge means opening that sanctuary as a 'safe place' to those who are an integral part of our community, and providing a haven for families to stay together," said the Rev. G. Penny Nixon, senior minister of Congregational Church of San Mateo.
Nixon points out that the two churches have worked very closely together — and they'll continue doing that in the coming months — and through the Peninsula Solidarity Network, an interfaith collaboration organized to address local social justice issues in San Mateo.
"Ben [Meyers] and I will be hosting workshops in next two weeks" for other churches considering becoming sanctuary spaces, Nixon explained. "They can rely on our best practices. Our lay leadership is phenomenal — we could hand them a packet and they could follow it and go right through the process."
"We commit our values to action as we work with other people of faith and moral conscience congruent with these principles and this purpose," said the Rev. Ben Meyers, minister of Unitarian Universalists of San Mateo. "Deportation of our neighbors and the breaking up of immigrant families in our communities are among the most compelling social justice issues of our time. Standing together on the side of love, our faith communities can make a real difference."
The overwhelming pledge from both faith communities, located just a few blocks apart, to offer refuge is part of their response to the White House's approach to target and deport millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States. They are the first two congregations in San Mateo County — situated between San Francisco and San Jose — to offer sanctuary space on their religious properties. There are also a growing number of multi-faith churches that are also joining the sanctuary movement as supporting congregations.
Nixon said that her congregation's staff will undergo training on what to do if agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) approach the church should they house anyone in need of sanctuary.
"We have a room ready to go," Nixon said. "We are in partnership with two or three local organizations" that work on immigrant issues. "But at this moment, we don't know" if anyone will be placed in Congregational Church for sanctuary in the immediate future.