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Rally Celebrates Columbia’s First Sanctuary Congregation

Julien Coquelle-Roehm

More than a hundred people gathered to celebrate the new sanctuary status of Columbia’s Unitarian Universalist Church (UUCC) this Tuesday. The church members voted last week to become what it calls a sanctuary congregation. Under this status, the church says it will take civil initiative to protect immigrants and refugees facing deportation. 

“Becoming a sanctuary congregation means first that we are taking a public stand in solidarity with our immigrants and refugee members of the community,” Reverend Molly Housh Gordon said. “We're going to be engaging in public activism for more just policy and a more dignified approach to immigration.”

Housh Gordon says the church will also provide physical protection to those who need it.

“We are prepared to offer physical sanctuary to someone who is facing imminent deportation or detention but who wishes to stay in their community and to continue engaging a legal process,” she said.

Housh Gordon says that both the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have sensitive locations policies. They seek to avoid enforcement actions in schools, hospitals and churches.

The congregation was the first to respond to a recent call from Faith Voices of Columbia, the local antenna of Missouri Faith Voices. The association wants to build a sanctuary network among faith communities in the city.

Alice Chamberlain, a spokesperson for Missouri Faith Voices, said other local congregations are currently discussing adopting this status.

“They’re discussing whether they want to become a formal sanctuary congregation and declare physical space to be available to immigrants and refugees,” Chamberlain said. “Or whether they want to be a solidarity congregation and support sanctuaries by providing volunteers and other kinds of technical and logistical support.”

In addition to UUCC and Faith Voices, immigrants, activists and an immigration attorney based in Columbia spoke at the rally. Among them were David and Moises Aguayo, two Columbia residents who immigrated from Mexico 20 years ago.

“We are not bad hombres,” David Aguayo said. “We are hombres that want to fight for justice and make this a better place.”

In the future, Faith Voices says it wants to see a greater involvement in those questions from local institutions.

“There are active campaigns,” Chamberlain said. “They advocate to our School Boards and to our City Council about what it's gonna take to pass real policies and real practices.”