Saratoga Springs Church Prepares Sanctuary for Immigrants by Terry Diggory

Undocumented immigrants facing possible deportation may seek sanctuary in the Presbyterian—New England Congregational Church (PNECC) of Saratoga Springs, according to a policy affirmed by the church Governing Board (Session) on June 5.  A special meeting of the congregation had previously approved the policy by unanimous vote (105-0).

The action aligns the Saratoga Springs church with a growing movement of communities of faith nationwide that have committed to offering sanctuary to immigrants.  According to the main website for the movement, http://www.sanctuarynotdeportation.org, there are currently over 800 sanctuary congregations.

At PNECC, the sanctuary commitment is part of a comprehensive “Covenant of Welcome to Immigrants” outlining a broad range of actions to support immigrant members of the local community, regardless of their immigration status, and to advocate for humane immigration policy nationally.  The inclusion of sanctuary on the list of actions underscores our serious commitment to the mission overall.

The text of the PNECC covenant, along with other resources relating to immigration in general and sanctuary in particular, is available on the church website: http://www.pnecchurch.org (look for the “Welcoming Immigrants” page under the “Our Faith in Action” menu).

Read the article in The Daily Gazette

Spa City church to offer undocumented immigrants sanctuary – Feds not likely to go into place of worship” in The Daily Gazette.

The adoption of our covenant grew out of a lengthy process of discernment that began with discussion in our Social Concerns Committee in January.  Subsequent discussions in Governing Board, in open meetings held after worship, and in small group gatherings examined many questions, always seeking to keep in mind the central question, “What is the right thing to do?”  Questions that typically arise in discussion of sanctuary came up among us, and we evolved a collective understanding in response:

“Is sanctuary legal?”  

We do not intend to hide anybody. Rather, we will advocate publicly for a sanctuary resident and work with immigration authorities for a just and humane resolution of the particular case.  As I found myself stating repeatedly, we are intervening in a legal process, not interfering with it.  Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) operates under guidelines that recognize churches among “sensitive locations” where ICE will not normally carry out enforcement actions.

“Is the church getting mixed up in politics?”

If politics is the process that seeks the welfare of the community as a whole, the answer to this question is a resounding “YES”!  To seek a just and loving community is simply to answer the call of Christ.  But to witness Christ’s love for our immigrant neighbors is not to take sides with one political party over another.  The sanctuary movement, which originated in the 1980s (among Presbyterians, by the way), revived under the administration of Barack Obama, whose record of deportations aroused deep concern among human rights advocates.  That concern continues under the administration of Donald Trump, whose rhetoric has certainly exacerbated the climate of fear already generated by government policies.  Taking up the cause of sanctuary now will necessarily address the current administration, but fundamentally it lifts up the timeless cry, “How long, O Lord?”

As we explored such questions at PNECC, we benefited from connections with both of the denominations, Presbyterian Church (USA) and United Church of Christ, represented by our federated congregations.  Members of our congregation attended the Pre-Presbytery workshop on “Immigration and Sanctuary” in Glens Falls on March 29.  On May 7, Transitional Presbyter Shannan Vance-Ocampo delivered a guest sermon at PNECC on the theme of immigration (based on Ruth 1).  An audio file of her sermon is available at http://www.pnecchurch.org/.  And of course, we frequently consulted the “Immigration and Sanctuary Resources” page on the Albany Presbytery website: http://albanypresbytery.org/pcusa-immigration-sanctuary-resources

Get Involved!

There is more work to be done and much to be gained by building an intentional network of individuals and congregations within Albany Presbytery to support our immigrant neighbors.  Rev. Gusti Newquist, pastor at First United Presbyterian Church in Troy, and I are eager to hear from anyone who would like to participate in such a network.  Please contact either Gusti or me through the contact information shown in the Presbytery directory.


Terry is a former moderator of Albany Presbytery and currently serves on the Committee on Representation and Nominations. He and his wife, Anne, and their younger daughter, Parker, have all served as Elders at the Presbyterian—New England Congregational Church in Saratoga Springs. Parker is Director of Religious and Spiritual Life at Skidmore College, where Terry formerly taught English. Their older daughter, Ariel, lives in Saranac Lake and works for the Adirondack Park Agency.

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