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First Unitarian Church of Providence declares itself a Sanctuary Church

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“We will not be a petty and cruel people,” said Reverend Liz Lerner Maclay, minister of the First Unitarian Church of Providence. “We declare ourselves a sanctuary church,” because, “what would be hard would be to do nothing.”

“Because First Unitarian Church of Providence affirms the inherent worth and dignity of every person, the importance of justice and equality, and the right of conscience, we are committed to welcoming strangers and protecting the vulnerable among us,” continued Maclay. “This action makes our faith manifest.”

Maclay was speaking before a crowd of around 120 people at a service to dedicate the space within the church campus that is now equipped and available to provide shelter to an individual or family facing deportation from the United States.

“Our congregation is grateful that we are located in a sanctuary city,” added Maclay. “We will not be in discussions with ICE (United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement), or representing these individuals in court, but we want to offer our guests a safe haven. Providing sanctuary is central to the heart of our congregation. We welcome and support immigrants, especially because so many of us (or our families) came from other places. Creating a sanctuary space is reflective of our core beliefs as a faith community.”

The idea of establishing First Unitarian as a Sanctuary Church evolved out of discussions within Side With Love, a Unitarian Universalist social justice committee. Alarmed by the anti-immigrant, nativist rhetoric swirling around the incoming Trump Administration in November 2016, the committee embarked on an effort requiring  months of research, input from community groups, congregational conversations, and guidance from the church’s governing board.


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Jay Glasson, President, First Unitarian Church of Providence

“Once someone takes shelter, it will take an enormous amount of support to sustain,” said First Unitarian Church of Providence President Jay Glasson. “The Committee will continue to train new new hosts and would welcome assistance from other faith communities.”

“Our resources are limited, but it is our hope that other faith communities will also step forward to help maintain this round-the-clock vigil, or to open their own sanctuary spaces,” said Maclay. “By taking the lead, we want to inspire others to create more sanctuary spaces around the state. Together, faith communities can reaffirm the vision that Roger Williams had when he established Rhode Island as a safe haven.”

The church welcomes help and donations. For more information, contact the host steering committee at firstusanctuary@gmail.com.

Here’s video of the sanctuary dedication service.

Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré and Representative Aaron Regunberg (Democrat, District 4, Providence), who is running for Lieutenant Governor, were in attendance.

Reverend Charles Ortman, Minister of Immigration and Sanctuary, Rhode Island State Council of Churches

Katherine Ahlquist, Chair, First Unitarian Sanctuary Steering Committee

[Full disclosure: the author of this piece and the chair of the First Unitarian Sanctuary Steering Committee are married.]


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