January 2018

Dear friends in Christ,
We have a lot going on at Immanuel as we prepare for our annual meeting in February including the election of many new leaders and approving our budget. You will find a bit of a year-inreview in my annual report coming soon. But for this month’s letter I’d like to provide you with an update on the interfaith effort to provide sanctuary for Lucio Perez at First Church, UCC, here in Amherst.

Last Friday I attended a party hosted by Lucio and his family to celebrate the community of support that has gathered to make this possible. They cooked all day (delicious tamales and tortillas!) and before we prayed a blessing for the meal they shared their heartfelt thanks to everyone. I pass that along to all of you as members of this community which has pledged
support, as well as specifically to those of you who have provided meals and taken shifts to accompany Lucio in these weeks.

That said, Lucio’s appeal is still pending in a very long backlog of cases with immigration appeals. He is in sanctuary because they can (and often do) deport someone even while an appeal is pending. We hope it will be sooner, but it is likely to go on for several more months. The alternative, however, is a likely more or less permanent separation of their family.

You can read more updates about his case and the work of sanctuary in the fairly regular articles in local papers, but I’d like to share a bit about the faith perspective on all of this. The church certainly has a place in advocating fair and just policies in our public sphere. And the sanctuary effort does draw attention to the issues that arise when we begin to talk about immigration. We hope that providing sanctuary is part of pushing for changes at the policy level.

At the same time, this effort is also about one of our neighbors. It is about the church – not just individual congregations, but the whole church – providing hospitality to a neighbor who has asked for refuge. This interfaith effort is a lot of work for one family, but it’s one family who has asked for our help, one family who has had the opportunity to stay together as a result of the efforts, one family who might be part of a movement for rethinking our immigration policies.

From the beginning God’s laws have called for places of refuge and for a welcome for the neighbors in need. Churches have a long history of providing refuge for those who are seeking help for one reason or another. The gospel compels us to see the dignity of each human person and to respond with grace and welcome for one another. This movement is fundamentally about
loving our neighbor. We proclaim a gospel that is not bound by the borders of nation-states. We follow a Jesus who repeatedly crossed boundaries to welcome strangers and outsiders. So we stand as people of faith walking alongside another person of faith in need of support and care.

I invite you to come and learn more from Russ Vernon-Jones, one of the leaders organizing the sanctuary work at First Church in our adult forum on Sunday, January 14th (9-10:15 a.m.). See Shawn Adams if you would like to help provide meals the week of January 29th. Donations to the First Church Sanctuary Fund are still needed to support his family through this time. And if you want to be part of the work of providing 24/7 accompaniment, I can put you in touch with the coordinator as well as share my experiences of spending time at First Church to accompany him. And please continue to keep Lucio, his family, and the interfaith community in your prayers.
Pastor Steven