Unitarians DK creation of sanctuary
By LILA ORBACH
NEWS STAFF REPORTER
JUN 8 1987
In the months ahead, political refugees from Guatemala and El Salvador may find sanctuary at Ann Arbor’s First Unitarian Universalist Church.
A proposal to declare the church a sanctuary for those fleeing persecution in the two Central American countries won overwhelming support during a specially-called meeting of the congregation Sunday.
“This is a moral statement of support in which we join with some 66 other Unitarian churches and several hundred other religious communities in the sanctuary movement,” said the Rev. Kenneth W. Phifer.
Sunday’s action was the second time the Unitarian Church had voted on the issue of sanctuary. In 1985, a majority of the voters favored sanctuary, but they did not have a sufficient percentage of the votes to pass the proposal.
Sunday’s vote of 84-9 was decisively in favor of sanctuary. The Unitarian Universalist Church now joins Ann Arbor’s Quaker church as part of the sanctuary movement.
Since deciding more than two years ago to participate in the sanctuary movement, the Quaker church - also called Ann Arbor’s Friends Meeting - has sheltered the Celayas, a family of seven from El Salvador.
Sanctuary status could create legal complications for the Unitarian Universalist Church. The U.S. government has moved to prosecute sanctuary workers in recent years, and the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service generally does not believe that Central Americans qualify for asylum in this country under federal laws.
Despite the overwhelming support for sanctuary shown at the Unitarian Universalist Church, Phifer emphasized that it will be several months before any refugees actually arrive there.
“Now the real work begins,” he said. “There is a great deal of paperwork to be done first. We need to figure out where we’re going to house the refugees, medical care, transportation and other necessities of life.”
Phifer stressed that the work load ahead of church members is great but the commitment is strong.