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Richmond Beach votes to be sanctuary church

In the current climate of threats to ban refugees from five Muslim countries, Richmond Beach United Church of Christ in Shoreline voted on Sunday, Jan. 29, to become a sanctuary church, a place to shelter refugees as a safe-haven from deportation.

Paul Ashby, the pastor of Richmond Beach who attends the Seattle Soto Zen, learned recently that a Buddhist Zen Center in Ballard was considering becoming a sanctuary zendo.

After researching being a sanctuary church, Paul preached about it on Jan. 22. 

After 45 minutes of discussion, Richmond Beach Congregational UCC in Shoreline voted unanimously on Sunday, Jan. 29 to become a Sanctuary Church.  They approved $2,000 in the 2017 budget to aid undocumented immigrants. 

In addition to committing resources from their budget, they agreed to offer homes to house people who might come into in sanctuary.

Sanctuary is based on models from other churches that became sanctuary churches in the 1980s, when congregations took in Central American refugees fleeing from U.S. funded civil wars. 

Paul has been compiling information over the years of what it means to own and take a stand publicly.  He has written about it in the newsletter and bulletins and the church has posted such signboard messages as:

• “Muslim neighbors make America great.” and

• “No matter where you were born, you’re welcome here.”

According to a report in the National Catholic Reporter, since 2014, 13 churches in nine cities have provided sanctuary for 15 people at risk of imminent deportation, said Noel Andersen, national grassroots coordinator for Church World Services.  He estimates that 400 congregations are willing to open their doors to people.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection consider churches, schools and hospitals “sensitive locations” and avoid arresting, searching for or interviewing people in those places.

The sanctuary tradition goes back to the Hebrew Bible in Numbers there are six sanctuary cities. 

Paul listed five steps to becoming a sanctuary community.

1) To become a sanctuary church, temple or synagogue requires a public vote of the congregation, not a simple change in the bylaws that is filed away. The first step is a public declaration that is affirmed by the community.

2) It means joining a network of other communities in mutual support for the cause. Being part of a network opens the door to participate in the local and national Sanctuary movement.

3) It means a commitment to provide resources for compassionate action. Those resources could be to provide shelter and food at a church, temple or synagogue or to provide financial support in the budget that will assist other communities providing sanctuary.

4) Sanctuary means a congregation offers protection to those who seek sanctuary. This requires more than food and shelter. It requires that the community peacefully not cooperate with immigration officials and ask immigration officials to not make any arrests on church grounds or in any way harass those for whom the community is providing sanctuary.

5) Sanctuary is a matter of human rights and humanitarian ethics. If the right of sanctuary is ignored or denied by immigration officials, the community will contract the local network of sanctuary communities and local news sources to seek support and advocacy.

“The sanctuary movement has united faith communities across the nation behind a stand for conscience and compassion—to protect immigrant families from being torn apart by deportations,” he said.

For information, call 206-547-7477 or email


Copyright © February 2017 Pacific Northwest Conference United Church of Christ News


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