Why an Austin Congregation Became a ‘Sanctuary Church’

In the debate over travel bans and deportations we’ve heard an awful lot about sanctuary cities and sanctuary campuses. Churches across the country and in Texas are also exploring the idea of providing refuge to families living in fear of deportation.

By Rhonda FanningFebruary 17, 2017 11:30 am| ,

St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Austin considers itself a sanctuary church. Reverend Jim Rigby says the church has been helping a Guatemalan mother and her son avoid deportation for about a year.

“To me, it’s like one of those moments where if you don’t open your door, you’re not really a church,” Rigby says. “If you can’t recognize that that’s what Moses was, that that’s what Joseph and Mary were in the story. It’s like if you can’t find your place in history to do the right thing — because it’s not really about religion it’s about love and justice — so when these people show up at your door, if you can’t recognize that moment then I think there’s something really sad.”

The Austin Sanctuary Network is a group of religious communities that are in various stages of providing sanctuary. Rigby says his church would not have been able to help as they did if not for the guidance from First Unitarian in Austin and other churches. Rigby says more than a dozen churches are in the network in the Austin area alone.

“We’re in a kind of a fight against time to get the materials to these different communities so that they can provide community,” Rigby says.

While federal law delineates tough punishments for those who knowingly harbor illegal immigrants, Rigby says he feels he must put himself on the line.

“When you look in the eyes of these people, this Guatemalan mother and her son. Her son is 10 years-old and he spent a tenth of his life in a detention camp when he came here,” Rigby says. “They thought the United States was the land of freedom. They thought it was what it says on the Statue of Liberty. You know, it’s a time of crises and you have to choose… to me, you can’t close your door on people who are trying to escape violence.”

Rigby recognizes his congregation can’t help every person who comes knocking on their door — but they’re working to help empower other churches to be able to help.