The Student News Site of Ithaca College

Ithaca Week

Ithaca Week

Ithaca Week

Sanctuary Space: An Ithaca Church's Efforts to Welcome All

Rev. Dr. David Kaden and the congregation at First Congregational Church of Ithaca (FCCI) have embodied the principle of extravagant welcome throughout the church’s history. On May 2, 2019, FCCI decided to represent this in a new way when the congregation voted to become a sanctuary church. 

FCCI Senior Minister David Kaden stands at the entrance to the church. (Photo: Liz Bierly)

“This is part of our mission, which is to welcome anybody, no matter who they are or where they are on life’s journey,” Kaden said. “It’s not just about being a sanctuary church, although that’s certainly part of it — it’s a whole posture of being welcoming toward people in need.”

Working Toward Welcome

Members of several faith communities, including FCCI and First Baptist Church in Ithaca, met to discuss the possibility of a congregation in Ithaca becoming a sanctuary church in late 2017 and early 2018. Michael Smith, coordinator of the Ithaca Sanctuary Alliance (ISA), said that moment was “the genesis” of the ISA.

The ISA is an interfaith group of congregations, coalitions and community members who partner with FCCI in their sanctuary efforts while informing the broader Ithaca community about issues that lead people to need sanctuary.

A “Network of Support”

Kristen Brennan, co-leader of the Sanctuary Ministries Team at FCCI, said the ISA was a critical part of FCCI’s decision process. While doing research about how sanctuary churches functioned, other congregations advised FCCI to partner with the community around them.

Signs at the church point toward the sanctuary guest apartment. (Photo: Liz Bierly)

“It’s too much for one church to do alone,” Brennan said. “It’s a huge … financial and logistical and emotional process, … so they advised us to create a network of support.”

Members of the ISA helped transform the second-floor youth room at FCCI into an apartment for a sanctuary guest. Andy Weislogel, co-leader of the Sanctuary Ministries Team at FCCI, said the ISA fundraised for the apartment. ISA donations paid for materials, and various volunteers donated their time and labor.

A Place to Call Home

In summer 2020, representatives from the Cornell Farmworker Program contacted FCCI with a candidate for sanctuary. After reviewing the details of the individual’s case, the congregation determined that sanctuary would offer the person the potential for legal relief, then welcomed her as a guest in July 2020.

The sanctuary guest, who preferred to remain anonymous for legal reasons, said via email that the most challenging part of being in sanctuary is that she “cannot go very far” from the church grounds but that living in sanctuary “has been a unique experience.” The sanctuary guest is also excited about improving her English and is working toward her GED.

“The people of Ithaca are very friendly, very beautiful, I think it is a community that supports each other,” the sanctuary guest said. “I want to thank each of the people who have contributed something in my life and who have helped me in some way.”

The worship sanctuary space at FCCI. (Photo: Liz Bierly)

Getting Involved

Ithaca community members can support the efforts of FCCI and the ISA by donating to FCCI’s sanctuary ministries fund.

Brennan and Weislogel said they also hope to have community members and college-aged students volunteer to spend time with the sanctuary guest.

Smith said one thing anyone can do is to educate themselves on issues of immigration to become an advocate in the community.

“This is not just an issue for people of faith,” Smith said. “While the tradition says it has to be a house of worship that can serve as a sanctuary space, I don’t think people who think of themselves as secular or even atheists are excluded from this effort — in fact, they’re most welcome.”

Leave a Comment
Donate to Ithaca Week

Your donation will support the student journalists of Ithaca College. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to Ithaca Week

Comments (0)

All Ithaca Week Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *