First Parish in Bedford Votes to Become a Sanctuary Congregation!




Monday, April 3, 2017

The First Parish in Bedford UU Declares Itself a Sanctuary for Those Fighting Deportation

On Sunday, April 2nd, 2017, the congregation of the First Parish in Bedford, MA, Unitarian Universalist voted overwhelmingly to become a sanctuary for an immigrant(s) resisting deportation. This means that the congregation is willing to provide a haven, under the “Sensitive Location” guideline of federal immigration authorities, to people who are refusing to submit to deportation orders as an act of moral protest.

A collective statement read aloud by Sanctuary Task Force co-chair Christine Dudley-Marling at the congregational meeting explained the decision as follows: “Immigrant and refugee communities are under unprecedented assault in the United States. Immigrants face the threat of separation from their families, communities, and workplaces through prolonged detention and mass deportation – in many cases, to some of the most dangerous places in the world. As Unitarian Universalists, we are called to oppose these threats to our neighbors and to stand in solidarity with the immigrant community.”

Signaling the urgency of the issue, the Special Meeting to reach a decision on the matter took place outside the normal parish meeting calendarDespite the length of the proceedings, which clocked in at nearly an hour and a half, nearly 150 members of the congregation stayed to the end to make their voices heard in this critical decision.

As this decision positions the church to commit civil disobedience, Senior Minister John Gibbons urged the congregation to consider the matter “discreetly, advisedly, and with due reverence.”  Expressing his personal support, he said that offering sanctuary is an expression of the first principle of Unitarian Universalism, “The worth and dignity of every person.”  He also noted that offering sanctuary is also consistent with historic UU efforts to assist refugees and those escaping oppression, including the rescue of Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe.

The meeting represented the culmination of a year-long discernment process. Following an earlier vote in June 2016 to create an exploratory task force to investigate the process of offering sanctuary, First Parish members spent months learning from the advice and wisdom of community partners and other houses of worship that have served as sanctuaries in the past. Crucial to the resolution’s success was the organizing work of Katia Hansen of UU Refugee and Immigrant Services and Education (UURISE), of Laura Wagner, the Executive Director of UU Mass Action, which supports and mobilizes UU congregations in Massachusetts to support social justice, and of Bedford’s student minister Josh Leach.

The resolution to become a sanctuary carried by a super-majority with only a single vote in opposition.  While others not in attendance might have voted pro or con, Rev. Gibbons noted that it showed admirable bravery not to vote with the majority, and that having respectful differences of opinion is part of what keeps the congregation strong and thriving. As he wrote in a Facebook post the next day: “To our lone dissenter we give a Profile in Courage Award. We remain indivisible!”

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