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Faith, Welcome, and the New Sanctuary Movement

We’re glad to welcome Pastor Marsh Drege to the Redefining Welcome blog this week as a guest writer. Pastor Drege is the Executive Director of Seafarers International House in New York City.

Pastor Marsh Drege (center) with two asylees who currently stay at Seafarers International House.

Seafarers International House (SIH) has stood with vulnerable immigrants and seafarers–new arrivals to this country–for 145 years.This Lutheran agency has taken to heart its call to welcome the stranger and provide a harbor of hospitality in New York City and beyond.

This indelible welcome continues with the passage of a resolution in December 2016 by the SIH Board of Directors stating that, “the SIH staff and board of directors explore connections with congregations and other agencies who are part of the New Sanctuary movement; and that the SIH Executive Director be empowered to exercise full discretion in providing sanctuary to migrant(s) in need of shelter and safety while their immigration issues are resolved and apprise the board when this discretion is exercised.”

Seafarers International House has welcomed asylum seekers to our guesthouse in Manhattan for the past 7 years. We network with First Friends of New Jersey and New York (a partner through LIRS) and provide a student social worker to help acclimate the 20-25 asylees who come each year to spend 1-3 months in SIH’s guesthouse.

In response to this latest resolution, I have networked with local New Sanctuary movement communities to continue to learn about this emerging and dynamic process of Biblical and political sanctuary.

Rev. Marsh Luther Drege welcomes an asylum-seeking family.

A family visiting Seafarers introduces their new baby to Executive Director Pastor Marsh Drege.

 

In cooperation with Faith In New York, a local community-organizing initiative, SIH has hosted community workshops and listening posts to learn and respond to the needs and fears of the undocumented and the vulnerable in the community. The main emphasis, at this point, is to be discreet and measured in light of the unpredictable and ever-changing executive orders and policies coming from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Homeland Security.

We are preparing to address the changing needs of our undocumented community. We know that the ground is shape-shifting regularly and we have committed ourselves to being at the table with other organizations that want to responsibly care for vulnerable immigrants in this uncertain time.

This preparation includes briefing the staff of Seafarers International House to know the rights of those who are undocumented. For example, if an ICE official comes to the guesthouse and asks the whereabouts of a certain individual, our staff is trained to follow prescribed guesthouse policies and not give out the names of any guests. If the official offers up a subpoena or request for information, the staff will insist such a request requires a warrant signed by a judge.

Aspects of Seafarer's welcoming work.

Seafarers International House is an ecumenical mission of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to seafarers and sojourners–including immigrants, as well as people who are distressed, disadvantaged, and displaced.

The New Sanctuary movement is about creating a sacred space for refugee and immigrant individuals that are in immediate danger of deportation. SIH does not wish to deliberately flaunt the laws of the state (and indeed it would seem that Sanctuary cities are in danger of being punished by having federal entitlements pulled), but rather to be a voice crying in the wilderness that says to the empire that the church of Christ is a community of love, hospitality, and safety for those who are often at the margins of society.

Seafarers International House continues to stand with immigrants and vulnerable refugees. Always has. Always will