Sanctuary Training and Network Developing

by Shannan Vance-Ocampo

Last month over 80 people gathered together at the Stony Point Center for a day and a half to learn about the Sanctuary Movement and to be trained on considerations around this faith-rooted practice of hospitality and organizing.  The training was led by AmyBeth Willis of the National Sanctuary Movement, Emily Brewer of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, Joe Paparone of the Labor-Religion Coalition of New York and myself, also representing the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship.  We were joined by the Community of Living Traditions at the Stony Point Center, Jessica Vasquez-Torres of Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training and Teresa Waggoner, Esq. who is the director of the Office of Immigration Issues at the Office of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).  We intentionally trained together as a leadership team to highlight the need for team leadership around Sanctuary and team competencies.

The training was a follow-up to the webinar that our Synod produced on Sanctuary at the end of 2016 and was a time of training in direct action, nonviolence, anti-racism considerations around the participation in Sanctuary and an introduction to the multi-disciplinary Sanctuary movement of today.  We discussed responses such as Sanctuary in the Streets, the traditional Sanctuary model, community and individual accompaniment and the ranges of those in need of Sanctuary from the targeting of the Muslim community, refugees and immigrants.  Each day we engaged in the grounding practices of worship and scriptural meditation.  Our time together closed with direct action planning and communal evaluation.

We discussed in depth not just the present need for Sanctuary but the need that has been expanding significantly over the last 8 years. Of particular concern we addressed the potential legal limits of Sanctuary, but also the far greater power that lies in the practice of direct nonviolent intervention and community amplification which takes place when intersectional community responses are built with intentionality.

We also investigated the important role that our own complicity in systems of oppression present, and the need for majority-white communities in mainline congregations to engage in significant pre-discernment and power analysis before beginning Sanctuary in all its forms.  Communities who are directly affected by policing, anti-immigrant, religious and racial bias need to be given primary voice in all conversations and actions we engage as people of faith.

Above all we discussed the need to live without fear, trusting in the freedom of Jesus Christ which compels us to bold living and action to proclaim the welcome, safety, and Sanctuary that lie at the core of the faith we share.

The Synod of the Northeast is in the process of gathering names of those interested in being a part of a larger network on Sanctuary.  If you are interested, please be in touch with Synod Networker, the Rev. Dr. Amaury Tañón-Santos.  

The Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo is Co-Moderator of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship and the Transitional Presbyter of Albany Presbytery.  She has served as a human rights accompanier in Colombia, South America and trained accompaniers since 2009.  Her last action of direct intervention was on Ash Wednesday at the Homeland Security office in Latham, NY which she wrote about.