Mentor Monday: John Fife and the Sanctuary Movement #LetHildaStay


When Elias and I were looking at Northwood Presbyterian Church as a possibility for where God might be calling us to ministry, I started doing what any reasonable job seeker does: internet stalking. I read everything I could online about the congregation, and the Presbytery. One of the things that intrigued me was a flier I saw for a dinner sponsored by the “Immigration Task Force.”

This Presbytery has an immigration task force? I thought. Now, that’s cool.

Fast forward a few years, and I’m now on the Immigration Task Force, and completely invested in and excited about their work. The current chair of the task force, Rev. Kelly Allen, and the original convener of it, Rev. Rob Mueller, have been consistent and persistent in our Presbytery, hosting educational dinners virtually every time the Presbytery gathers together. I’m so proud that Presbyterians in South Texas are so educated on the immigration concerns that affect our community and our country.

At our last Presbytery meeting in February (yes, I’m a little behind on blogging!) we were so honored to have the Rev. John Fife come and speak to us about the Sanctuary Movement.

Straight from wikipedia:

The Sanctuary Movement was a religious and political campaign in the United States that began in the early 1980s to provide safe-haven for Central American refugees fleeing civil conflict. It responded to restrictive federal immigration policies that made obtaining asylum difficult for Central Americans.

At its peak, Sanctuary involved over 500 congregations across the country that, by declaring themselves official “sanctuaries,” committed to providing shelter, material goods and often legal advice to Central American refugees. Various denominations were involved, including the Lutherans, United Church of Christ, Roman Catholics,Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Jews, Unitarian Universalists, Quakers, andMennonites.

Movement members acted in open defiance of federal law, and many prominent Sanctuary figures were arrested and put on trial in the mid and late 1980s. The roots of the movement derive from the right of sanctuary in medieval law and Jewish and Christian social teachings.

When Rev. Fife was with us, I was struck by his compassion, his wisdom, and his calling to encourage the next generation. There is a new sanctuary movement gaining momentum right now, and St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Austin currently has a mother and son living in their sanctuary.

I included John Fife on “Mentor Monday,” not because we have strong ties (just met him one time) but because he seems to be making it his business to use the wisdom he gained in doing this work in the 1980s and pass it on to those who need to continue to do it now, in 2016 and beyond. Just being around him for a couple of hours lit a fire under all who heard him speak. When I think about reasons I’m proud to be Presbyterian, Rev. John Fife and Rev. Alison Harrington and the sanctuary movement are at the top of the list.

If you’ve never heard of the Sanctuary Movement, check it out. (Particularly if you’re Presbyterian and particularly if you’re in Mission Presbytery)

Deuteronomy 10:19 You are to love those who were foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners… 

Interested in learning more about Sanctuary?

U.S. Churches Offer Safe Haven for a New Generation of Immigrants

Groundswell Petition to Let Hilda Stay

Watch a video about Southside Presbyterian Church and their successful resolution of one person’s case after 461 days in sanctuary. 

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