On January 5, 2018, in the middle of a serious snowstorm, Maria, a Central American woman, facing deportation, entered Sanctuary at First Parish, a Unitarian church in Bedford, which became her home for three years and three months.
Preparation for this significant endeavor began in 2017, when First Parish voted almost unanimously to provide a Sanctuary space to one person facing expulsion. The church proceeded to hold two major fundraisers, which enabled the Sanctuary Committee to fashion a small apartment with kitchen appliances and a half bath on its second floor. A shower, washer and dryer were added to the basement.
The next step in this journey was to recruit other religious congregations help provide 24/7 supervision for a guest. In all, two Episcopal churches, two Jewish Synagogues, six Unitarian churches, (including the Winchester Unitarian Society), and an unaffiliated interfaith cooperative joined the movement – some 400 people in all. Two volunteers spent four-hour shifts at the church, 24 hours a day. Volunteers received two hours of in-person training, and ongoing supervision from a member of the Sanctuary Committee.
The Parish of the Epiphany joined this important effort shortly after an Adult Education Presentation by members of the First Parish Sanctuary Committee in the spring of 2019.
Judy Cotton and Nelia Newell volunteered to be Epiphany’s Sanctuary Coordinators, and have been responsible for recruiting, arranging training, conducting background checks and helping to supervise our 21 volunteers.
During her stay in Sanctuary, Maria accomplished many things! She quickly became a valued member of the First Parish community, attending and singing at church services. She was tutored in English, learned to knit, gardened, took piano and yoga lessons, participated in religious education classes, maintained contact with her family, worked with her legal team, and made friends with church staff and volunteers
On Tuesday, March 9th, we received the wonderful news that Maria had received a one-year stay of deportation. John Gibbons, Senior Minister at First Parish, sent the following statement to all involved with Maria and her care:
“This status will allow Maria to obtain a work permit, pursue further legal options, come and go as she wishes, and ultimately to find new living quarters with her family. Our Coalition will continue to be needed as Maria transitions to the next phases of her journey to freedom.”
Many, many thanks to the 21 Epiphany members who dedicated many hours to ensuring Maria’s care and well being, as well as the many who have strengthened this ministry through prayer and support.
Rev. Nick Myers