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Evangelical Lutheran Church Declares Itself a Sanctuary Denomination


Movement Led by the Metropolitan New York Synod

MILWALKEE, August 7, 2019 — The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), today at the 2019 ELCA Churchwide Assembly declared itself a Sanctuary Denomination, dedicated to serving and supporting the protection of migrants in communities nationwide. The ELCA is the first mainstream church body in America to declare itself a sanctuary denomination. The movement was spearheaded by the Metropolitan New York Synod (MNYS), one of the 65 synods of the ELCA.

“Christians have offered sanctuary for two thousand years, continuing an ancient biblical practice in which cities and houses of worship provided refuge and asylum for people fleeing injustice,” stated Christopher Vergara, who serves as chairperson of MNYS’s AMMPARO/Sanctuary Ministry. “Beginning in the 1980s, the Sanctuary Movement was a faith-based initiative to protect Central American refugees fleeing civil war and seeking safety in the United States. Today, the New Sanctuary Movement is a revived effort to protect undocumented migrants from needless jailing procedures and deportation, and to address the dire situation within the Department of Health and Human Services that has resulted in the stripping of services to refugees and unaccompanied children.”

By its vote, the ELCA Churchwide Assembly deemed that sanctuary means not only provision of shelter but also:

  • A response to raids, detentions, deportations, and the criminalization of immigrants and refugees;
  • A strategy to fight individual cases of deportation, to advocate for an end of mass detention, and to amplify immigrant voices;
  • A vision for what communities and the world can be; and
  • A moral imperative to take prophetic action of radical hospitality rooted in the ancient traditions of our faith communities.

"I am thrilled to be part of the sanctuary initiative," said MNYS Bishop Paul Egensteiner. "The ELCA has long been one of the most welcoming denominations, and we look forward to broadening this initiative on a national scale, much like we have done with our efforts in the LGBTQIA community, and our efforts surrounding racism awareness, domestic violence training, and inclusion and protection of women and children."

Working locally with organizations like Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Lutheran Social Services, The New Sanctuary Coalition, The New York Immigration Coalition, and the ELCA’s AMMPARO program, the MNYS has created a network of sanctuary congregations ready to help protect refugees and undocumented people from arrest and deportation. The pillars of the program lie in education, advocacy, and awareness.

As next steps, the ELCA will develop guidelines and resources for congregations and synods to help them explore and develop sanctuary ministries. 



About Metropolitan New York Synod:

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has three expressions: over 10,000 congregations, 65 regional synods, and the churchwide organization. The Metropolitan New York Synod is the regional expression of the ELCA and encompasses 190 parishes in all five boroughs of New York City, Long Island, Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, Ulster and Westchester Counties. The 190 parishes are greatly diverse, from rural outposts to inner-city storefront churches, with a good dose of suburban mid-sized congregations as well. Worship is conducted in over a dozen languages, including Spanish, Arabic, Cantonese, Mandarin, Norwegian, German, Swahili, and American Sign Language. Progressive and highly inclusive, the Synod champions diversity and tolerance, with strong multicultural and global missions, as well as unwavering advocacy for children, the LGBTQIA community and displaced immigrants. The Rev. Paul Egensteiner serves as the Bishop of the synod.

About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:

The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with nearly 3.5 million members in more than 9,100 worshiping communities across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of “God’s work. Our hands.,” the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA’s roots are in the writings of the German church reformer Martin Luther.


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