As the Trump administration ramps up deportations and fuels fear among undocumented residents, a Salem congregation takes a bold stand for love and justice.

With many Salem and Mid-Willamette Valley families living amid suspicion and fears of deportation, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Salem (UUCS) voted to become a sanctuary congregation. 

The sanctuary vote is a strong stand against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrests that have led to separated families, and men, women and children living in perpetual fear of being stopped, jailed and then deported. 

In becoming a sanctuary congregation, UUCS follows a long faith tradition of churches and religious communities serving as places of refuge for those in need, and those fleeing violence, slavery and persecution.

The congregation voted May 21 after three months of deliberation conducted by the church’s Sanctuary Discernment Task Force. More than 75 percent of the congregation cast votes and well over 90 percent voted in favor of the sanctuary resolution.

Rev. Richard Davis (Rev. Rick), who became UUCS senior minister in 1993, served on the task force. 

The UUCS congregation and sanctuary task force are currently working on all aspects of becoming a physical sanctuary so that the church will be ready.

The UUCS is also making connections with immigrant groups and other churches and faith communities intent on helping undocumented residents in this community.

In our outreach the UUCS has learned about an 18-year-old girl, still a senior in high school, who is preparing to take care of the household, and raise her younger siblings if her undocumented parents are deported. 

UUCS members have rallied for local DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival) youth who are now being threatened with deportation as they start their adult lives. Members have also heard of children who are afraid to go to school for fear their parents will be deported while they are away.

Offering physical sanctuary is just one part of the current sanctuary movement which involves people from all faiths and other parts of the community helping protect undocumented men, women and children.

That help includes the following – Know Your Right trainings in the community, court and ICE check-in accompaniment, writing DACA letters, campaigning for legislation, participating in rallies, protesting at ICE detention centers and calling on ICE to release detainees back to their families.

In becoming a sanctuary congregation, the UUCS joins the First Unitarian Church in Denver, Colorado, plus hundreds of other church, religious and faith communities who vow to heed a higher moral law. 

Many churches served as stops along the Underground Railroad of the 1800s to free slaves, and also help those escaping violence in Central America in the 1980s.

Today there is a renewed call. “It’s precisely in times like this that faith communities like ours are called to be moral voices in community – not only in word, but in deed,” said UUCS Rev. Richard Davis in his April 23 sermon, “The Call of Conscience and Courage.” 

While the UUCS will be unable to provide sanctuary to all those who may need it, the congregation will be able to offer refuge for an individual in danger of being separated from their loved ones, Davis said.

“Our action will serve as witness, as a beacon of hope and compassion, and an act of protest against our government’s cruel and unjust practices,” Rev. Davis said. 

The declaration of sanctuary upholds the Unitarian Universalist key principles of affirming the inherent dignity and worth of each person, and of promoting justice, equity and compassion.

The UUCS is not alone in the local faith community in taking steps to open doors and extend helping hands to fellow neighbors, co-workers, students and others. The aim is to protect families and fellow members of the community, those we work with, go to school with and live alongside in our neighborhoods.

Their only crime is being undocumented. 

The UUCS and its Social Justice in Action Team will join faith and community representatives for a Sanctuary Info Session on Thursday, June 22, 6-8:30 p.m. at McKay High School. 

The session will consist of an exploration by local faith leaders and the Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice regarding immigrant justice and forming an interfaith coalition. 

The evening stems from the Social Service Team of the Willamette Valley Resistance Collective and will feature Mark Knutson of Augustana Lutheran Church at Portland, Oregon, who will share about Augustana’s experience of becoming and being a sanctuary church. 

In addition, Pedro Sosa of American Friends Service Committee will also talk about the current situation facing immigrant communities in Marion County.  

Congregations and community members encouraged to come in teams of 5-6. Free food provided. RSVP at http://bit.ly/2r95KMZ,. For more information send an email

sanctuarycohort@gmail.com.