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Olympia church supports temple’s sanctuary family

United Churches of Olympia has an Immigrant Refugee Covenant Group (IRCG) of eight and is among 16 faith communities in Greater South Sound Faith Network for Immigrant and Refugee Support supporting Temple Beth Hatfiloh, which took an undocumented family into sanctuary in September.

United Churches of Olympia’s Immigrant and Refugee Covenant Group members are: Deb Wallace, Wendy Taylor, Nancy Welton, Ruth Shearer, Eleanor Van Noppen, Therese Sprunger, Jacky Crow and Joan Knapp.                  Photo courtesy of Wendy Taylor

The United Churches, a union of UCC and Presbyterian churches, studied sanctuary two years, and in November 2018 voted to be a sanctuary church.  They formed a task force to make a plan and offered town halls between worship services to educate and make people aware of the temple’s trainings and how to help once the family arrived. 

Their church and the temple were the only two facilities where it was feasible to welcome someone into sanctuary.

The church’s task force had recommended a room for use, but postponed plans to accept someone, in order to assist the temple. For now, members of the covenant group and the church join in volunteering to help with a mother and son fleeing domestic violence in Guatemala and denied asylum. They are providing Christmas gifts, decorations and celebration, and will purchase and deliver groceries in January. Twenty-five are trained to help the temple with 24-7 shifts to keep the mother and child secure.

Information on the family in sanctuary is protected for their safety. Because the mother’s appeal will take two years, so the covenant group is also helping with legal fees.

Cynthia Cook and Ruth Shearer were the first co-chairs of the United Churches covenant group, but because of Cynthia’s death and Ruth’s health, Wendy Taylor and Nancy Welton became co-chairs.

Wendy, a retired UCC pastor who began attending the church in 2009 when she moved to Ocean Shores and became more active after moving to Lacey Panorama Retirement Community in 2013,

After graduating from Whitworth College in 1966, she taught English, Spanish, humanities and reading in California, Puerto Rico and Oregon. She graduated from Pacific School of Religion, was ordained in 1988 and served a UCC church in Belmont, Calif., before starting and serving 10 years at the Puente (Bridge) Hispanic Ministry at Pescadero UCC. In the 1980s, she initiated the Northern California Nevada UCC Conference’s welcome an El Salvadoran family in their office.

Wendy said United Churches has had a sister church in San José, Costa Rica, for 20 years, with people visiting back and forth. 

Along with that mission tie, the church’s Mission 2017 called for a compassionate response to sanctuary and homelessness. Their congregation, youth and community members recently helped finish building two tiny houses in their parking lot for Hope Village at Westminster Presbyterian.

Temple Beth Hatfiloh’s Rabbi Seth Goldstein said the Olympia congregation’s decision to take in the family was out of their faith and history.

“Our Torah teaches over and over again that you should welcome and love the stranger,” he said.

Their tradition of good works comes from a history of experiencing oppression, Wendy said. “Offering sanctuary is an act of partnership and solidarity. Scriptures motivating the United Churches are Matt. 25, Leviticus’ “no longer strangers” and the Golden Rule.

“We have a few Spanish-speaking members who have experience with laborers and justice work,” said Wendy, who used her book, No Longer Strangers: The Practice of Radical Hospitality, as part of training.

“The national culture is overwhelming, terrorizing, deprecating and unwelcoming to immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers,” she said. “We could not tolerate that and took a stand for these brothers and sisters.  We act as Christ’s hands and feet.”

Wendy said that while progress seemed slow, there are 120 volunteers trained at the temple to bring physical sanctuary in partnership with the other faith communities.

The United Churches “are blessed to live into” what is realistic and discerning whether Olympia needs more than one physical sanctuary, she said.

“When God calls us, we listen and set aside personal expectations,” she said.

To share the church’s and city’s commitment to sanctuary work with the congregation, the covenant group has had open sessions and questionnaires to gather feedback to assure the IRCG and church council.

There is a donation box for specific items needed by AIDNW (Aid for Immigrants in Detention Northwest).

At an on-site welcome van, members serve people newly released from the detention center. They serve people awaiting hearings at the two hospitality houses in Tacoma.

The group keeps in contact, sending emails to 45 who attended the first open meeting two years ago, to report local and national events and news.

Members go to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma to bring refreshments, hold supportive banners and offer Spanish/English listeners to families visiting their incarcerated loved ones.

The group also joins rallies for immigrant rights at the Capitol across the street.

They communicate in the church bulletin, the weekly eBlast, the monthly Voice newsletter, a bulletin board in the church and TV monitor that lists announcements before, between and after both services.

They set up a table at the mission fair for sign ups and a questionnaire as soon as the Temple needed support.

They also share what they are doing with the larger coalition.  The group has learned the importance of communicating their studies, films and activities.

Their efforts are recognized by the pastoral staff—co-pastors Tammy Stampfli and Lara Crutsinger-Perry—the Church Council and Community Connections Ministry.

“Worship and personal prayer time were times to share hopes and fears about immigrants traveling from impossible living situations, crossing attempts, terror at the southern border, detentions and family separations,” Wendy said.

For information, call 650-743-5294


Copyright © Winter 2019-2020 Pacific NW United Church News


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