by Wini Atlas, Lay Minister for Social Justice.

To most of us at UUCF, the Sanctuary is where we hold worship services and other events. We also understand sanctuary as a place of refuge for humans and wildlife. Sanctuary is an old concept going back to a Saxon king in the 4th and 5th centuries BCE who promulgated laws of the right of asylum. Sanctuary had legal standing in England until the 17th Century, during which authorities were prevented from taking even criminals from churches. The process, though still recognized in modern times, no longer has the force of law. Yet, we are familiar with political asylum, which must be granted by a sovereign authority. Protection from deportation or extradition granted by an embassy or a nation still has the force of law. WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, continues to live in the Ecuadoran embassy in London, and Edward Snowden is still in Russia, protected from U.S. prosecution.

Today, the concept of sanctuary still energizes many across our nation as efforts to deport those erroneously (in my humble opinion) called “illegal aliens.” Many feel that immigration is what made our melting pot of a nation what it is.

The political climate in the U.S. is causing many communities of faith and cities to reconsider the use of sanctuary as a refuge. Our congregation recently sponsored a training by Sanctuary DMV representatives. Sanctuary DMV is an area-wide organization working to create a Northern Virginia chapter. The meeting was well attended by members from UUCF, several UU NOVA cluster congregations and other faith communities. We plan to be part of the local NOVA Sanctuary DMV coalition, and I am grateful to Jenna Kelly-Jones who stepped forward to chair a UUCF committee of about a dozen people.

As lay minister for social justice, I’m excited and encouraged by the response to this new initiative. What can UUCF do? That’s still being decided, and we hope more people will join the effort, but the possibilities are many and much work needs to be done before we decide on a strategy. The Social Justice Council will evaluate the possibilities with the new committee to ensure our efforts align with UUCF’s strategic pillars of social justice. For more information about the SJC and the social justice pillars, click here. For more information on Sanctuary DMV, click here. If you are interested in joining the new committee, please email me at winiatlas@verizon.net.