Are you wondering what “sanctuary church” means in the Lower Susquehanna Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church? Maybe you read the recent article in The Lutheran on the ELCA declaring itself a sanctuary church? Well, here is an explanation from the Lower Susquehanna Synod Bishop James S. Dunlop is a recent pastoral letter to the synod.
The Rev. James S. Dunlop, Bishop ~~ August 15, Mary, Mother of Our Lord Festival
Dear Siblings in Christ,
Having just returned from the 2019 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, I am excited by the important work we accomplished together. Thanks to all the voting members who worked diligently to make this Assembly a success. You can read the impressive summary of actions on the ELCA website. The highlights included:
- Adopting a constitutional change for deacons (Rostered Ministers of Word and Service) to be ordained, rather than the previous practice of consecration.
- Adopting “Faith, Sexism and Justice: A Lutheran Call to Action” condemning patriarchy and sexism and calling for action on a range of issues, including gender-based violence and workplace discrimination.
- Witnessing the presentation of the ELCA Church Council’s “Declaration of the ELCA to People of African Descent,” which apologizes for the historical role of Lutherans in slavery and racism.
- Adopting the policy statement, “A Declaration of Our Inter-Religious Commitment,” which will serve as church policy for inter-religious relations.
- Re-electing the Rev. Elizabeth Eaton as ELCA Presiding Bishop and electing Deacon Sue Rothmeyer as ELCA Secretary, both for six-year terms.
These are all significant accomplishments; however, the action that generated the most attention – and controversy – was the Churchwide Assembly’s declaring the ELCA a “sanctuary church” body. A bold declaration, it is intended to affirm and deepen our church’s longstanding commitment to legally assisting immigrants and refugees in their transition to the United States of America. There is no call in the action for civil disobedience or any illegal actions. The specific actions mentioned are all legal.
This is work that the renowned Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) has done since 1939. More recently, the ELCA adopted the AMMPARO (Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities) initiative, which our own Synod Assembly voted in June to implement in Lower Susquehanna.
Unfortunately, news reports and social media postings have been quick to jump to false conclusions and spread misinformation about the designation and what it means. The media storm has left many ELCA members upset and confused about the actions of their church and its implications for them and their congregations.
To clarify the issue, ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton has released this letter explaining what the Churchwide Assembly’s designation of sanctuary church means for us all. I commend Bishop Eaton’s letter to you and urge that it be shared with anyone who may find it helpful. I hope and pray that her letter can allay fears and put to rest the rumors, so that we can continue our focus on the work God has given us, including caring for the least among us.
Yours in Christ, †James S. Dunlop, bishop, Lower Susquehanna Synod, ELCA, www.lss-elca.org 717-652-1852