On December 12, 2018, Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church in Bethesda, Md. became the first church in the D.C. area to publicly declare that they were providing sanctuary protection to an undocumented immigrant. Rosa Gutierrez Lopez is a mother of three U.S. children from El Salvador. She was told by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that she must return to her home country by December 10, 2018, but chose to remain in the U.S. and pursue her asylum application in order to not leave her family.Bible-706641.jpg

After more than two months at the church, Cedar Lane Reverends Abhi Janamanchi, Senior Minister and Katie Romano Griffin, Assistant Minister, reflect on what the process has been like so far and what they have learned since making this decision.

In May 2017, our congregation overwhelmingly voted to become a physical sanctuary congregation as part of the DMV Sanctuary Congregation Network in Washington, D.C. Though we had undergone training and were prepared to make a swift decision whenever a case would be presented to us, taking that leap of faith brought forth a valuable spiritual and learning experience like no other.

We approached the issue of sanctuary as an act of faith – and as an act of faithful resistance. Making such a declaration to provide shelter and support to a person who has not been granted due process has the potential for risk, but the positive response and embrace by people near and far has been overwhelming as we all have come to know Señora Lopez and welcome her into our community.

When the moment came for us to accept Señora Lopez into Sanctuary, we didn’t see it as potentially dangerous or fearful, but as an opportunity to fulfill our commitment to provide shelter and safety to a mother and asylum seeker who fled violence in her home country of El Salvador years ago and now faced deportation. We did not know her before she arrived at our church, but her grace and resilience have inspired us immensely. She has remained present and faithful to God in a moment where she could have retreated, and has been able to face up to an incredibly challenging and painful situation of being separated from her life as she knew it. She has been an inadvertent spiritual teacher in embodying such positivity and faith.

While it has been such a blessing to work with Señora Lopez and her children in our community, our primary hope is that she will be reunited with her three U.S.-born children as soon as possible. Her youngest has many health challenges that she has been coordinating and managing and they all need her back home. Until that happens, our commitment is to continue working together to provide a sanctuary for her and to advocate for a compassionate, faithful response to her asylum petition by immigration officials.

Rev. Abhi Janamanchi is the senior minister, and Rev. Katie Romano Griffin is the assistant minister at Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church in Bethesda, Md.

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

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