Welcoming the Stranger

Task Force for Sanctuary Church Update

Submitted on behalf of the Sanctuary Task Force by
Elders Jim Holcomb and Tom Daft.

It’s been a little over a month since Pastor Scott sent a letter informing the congregation that the Session approved the formation of a task force to study the question of whether Westminster should participate in the sanctuary movement and, if so, what level of involvement would be appropriate. One of the expectations established for the task force was that it would keep the congregation and the session well-informed throughout the process. This is the first formal update to the congregation.

The task force has been meeting regularly since its formation to pray, study, discuss and plan. To assist in our understanding of these complex issues, the task force has created small groups to focus on the various areas that need to be considered including: logistics, legal, communications, policies and sustainability. The task force envisions a multiple month process to thoroughly investigate each area, receive congregation feedback and prepare a recommendation. Task force members will also be reaching out to church committees and groups to share information and receive feedback.

A great deal of information is being collected, reviewed by the task force and posted to the Westminster website. We invite the congregation to learn along with us by visiting the Westminster website and reviewing the immigration and sanctuary resource information at: www.westpres.org/immigration. Information on immigration and sanctuary will also be shared during after church programs on Sundays and in small group study opportunities.

Please pray for the task force as it goes forward, that we are able to listen for and hear God’s plan for our congregation.

Hard to Resist

I guess I’m a contrarian. Instead of giving something up for Lent, I spent it doing something I really enjoy. I met every Sunday morning with a dedicated group of disciples, tackling a Bible study called “Out of the Waters – Resisting the Power the Fear.”

The study was written by the Rev. Dr. David Vasquez. Dr. Vasquez was a pastor in northeast Iowa during the Postville immigration raids, and spent many months ministering to his community and to the families of deportees in the aftermath. He used his experiences to create this study.

Following Dr. Vasquez’ guidance, our Westminster group spent six weeks looking closely at a group of immigrants who were initially welcomed into a new land, but who ultimately fell victim to shifting political landscapes and growing economic concerns in their host country.

The immigrants became increasingly reviled, but had no realistic way to escape without bringing great danger to their families, their friends, and themselves. They couldn’t turn to the government for help, because the country’s leaders made it clear that the immigrants were not welcome, and much of their persecution came at the hands of government agents.
The situation became so toxic that the immigrants, led by a small team of leaders practicing non-violent civil disobedience, eventually fled, despite their fears, experiencing much pain and hardship in their search for peace and freedom. Who were these migrants? Why the Israelites, of course, led by Moses and Aaron.

The first six chapters of Exodus contain this well-known story. We have heard it so often that many of us were surprised to learn the nuances contained in the story. Moses was a murderer fleeing justice. The Hebrew midwives used Pharaoh’s own prejudices to undermine his orders. Pharaoh’s daughter committed treason.

Everybody feared everybody. The Hebrews feared Pharaoh. Pharaoh feared the Hebrews. Moses and the midwives feared God. Every decision was made in fear. It wasn’t until faith overcame fear that salvation became available to the Israelites.

Exodus gave us new eyes to see the immigrants in our own age. As part of our study, we took some time to talk about our ancestors. When did they migrate to the USA? What stories did we know about our families’ histories? What food and customs survive from our ancestors? (I put a dala horse in our family crèche at Christmas, and my mother and father have a julbock they put under the tree. If you don’t know, ask me.)

We saw the similarities and differences between this ancient story and our own time. We identified our fears without judgement, and examined our feelings around the current conversations. We looked at the histories of other generations of immigrants to the USA, voluntary and forced, and talked about their struggles.

Exodus says the trouble in Egypt started when a new Pharaoh who didn’t “know” Joseph and Jacob rose to power. Ramses ultimately knew great defeat because he didn’t “know” God. So our group thought that maybe the first step to solving the issues we struggle with today is to get to know one another, and God. At least it couldn’t make things any worse.

If you want to know more about our study or have any questions, I’d be glad to talk to you. You can email me at , or just look for me around the doughnut table on Sunday. I’m always glad to spend a few minutes talking about God’s work in the world, or ridiculous Christmas decorations. Whatever you prefer.