Two Columbia churches take risks to provide sanctuary

9 months 4 days 8 hours ago Tuesday, October 10 2017 Oct 10, 2017 Tuesday, October 10, 2017 1:00:00 PM CDT October 10, 2017 in News
By: Lindsey Fafoglia, KOMU 8 Reporter

COLUMBIA - Two Columbia churches are willing to host immigrants despite a lack of space and legal risks. 

Rock Bridge Christian Church announced its decision to become a sanctuary church in September, following in the steps of Unitarian Universalist Church, which announced itself as a sanctuary in April.

Rock Bridge Christian Church's Rev. Sarah Klaassen said "there are deeply theological reasons for doing this for us."

A sanctuary church is one that is willing to take people in and host them if they are in danger of immediate detention or deportation because of their immigration status, Klaassen said.

She said, although the church might be taking some risks, they are smaller than the risks of those who may need to be in sanctuary. 

"We are not necessarily protected by any law, but what we are protected by is kind of the moral authority that we have as a faith community," she said.

Churches, like schools and hospitals, are considered a sensitive space. Klaassen said, so far law enforcement and immigration officials haven't entered these spaces to arrest anyone.

When Rock Bridge first announced it would be a sanctuary, many people spoke out on KOMU 8's Facebook page.

Bob Green wrote: "This is just wrong. No institution should find it OK to break the law. The Fed's should feel free to walk in the front door, arrest the illegals, and arrest those harboring them. We have a constitution and laws."

Tim Coleman said, "Those who provide sanctuary to illegals should ALSO be deported and stripped of their own citizenship."

And Danah O'Connor said, "I wish I could break laws and have a sanctuary place to run and hide in. Wait, I belong here tho."

Dottie Mathews, of Unitarian Universalist, said providing sanctuary is all about freedom.

"We really believe that there is a saying that no one is free until everyone is free, and so, if we are helping other people legally attain their freedom, then we're helping everyone to live in a more just society."

Klaassner said it's about being there for people in need.

"It doesn't matter what their status is, whether they're documented or not, they deserve our hospitality," she said.

Klaassen said Rock Bridge Christian Church does not have an apartment or bedrooms for people to stay in, but it is forming a plan in case the need to host arises.

Mathews said Unitarian Universalist is working on creating a space and procedures for someone if they need to go into sanctuary. Once that person entered the church they could not leave until the legal process to stay in the country is complete.  

"This is a vague area of the law," Mathews said. 

Mathews said Universality Unitarian needs to determine where a person or family would sleep, use the restroom, or eat meals. She said the people in the congregation will volunteer to do things like provide diapers given there is a child, or do things like pick up prescriptions.

She said the congregation is representing Columbia as a welcoming city. 

"Missouri is not known around the country to be a particularly welcoming state," Mathews said. "But I think maybe that's a false, in many cases, a false idea that people from out of this state have."

Mathews said there are close to a thousand other sanctuary churches around the country. She said many of the immigrants that could be deported are in process of gaining citizenship.

"These people are here trying to do the right thing, they've tried to go through the right legal channels and they're waiting for technicalities in many cases, just waiting to be approved to stay here," Mathews said. 

Klaassan said Rock Bridge Christian Church made the decision to become a sanctuary church through a democratic process.

"The idea of sanctuary started I think for us, back in January."

The church started having congregational meetings in May, and discussed the idea with the board and elders of the church. They also had conversations with the church members, and had an official discussion and vote on Sunday, September 17. 

"There are several levels of decision making, the logistics, and the insurance and the legal questions," Klaassen said. "But the one that is really guiding us through all of those is our faith."

Mathews said her congregation overwhelmingly voted yes to becoming a sanctuary church.

"Our faith is one that has always been very committed to justice issues," Mathews said.

Both Klaassen and Mathews work with Faith Voices of Missouri to provide support and work with the immigrants in the community. 

Klaassen said there is a network of people working on sanctuary in Mid-Missouri that are offering their support to the official sanctuary churches in Columbia.

Mathews said, "There are many congregations, even if they haven't publicly said 'we will also do this too,' they have said if you do this, we will help." 

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