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Living Our Mission and Thanking Our Partners

By UU Church of Boulder, Boulder, CO

The mission of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Boulder is to be a beacon of liberal religion, committed to:

  • Nurturing the spiritual growth of our diverse and multigenerational religious community;
  • Fostering ministry and hospitality between and among our members, friends and visitors;
  • Actively promoting Unitarian Universalist values here and in the wider world;
  • Sustaining these efforts through our culture of social justice and generosity.

For seven years, the congregation has lived its mission in many ways, including through its Immigration Ministry Team - a group of ten or so folks dedicated to doing immigration reform using a small group ministry model.  Why small group ministry? As Unitarian Universalists, our faith calls us to be agents for justice. However, sometimes this work can feel draining, daunting, or disconnected from our spirituality. Engaging justice efforts through the format of small group ministry addresses both the yearning to grow spiritually in community and the call to transform ourselves and the world. The small group ministry can be our home base, from which we engage with the world, walk beside our partners in the community, and return to reflect, recharge, and renew our commitments. Using this format encourages us to focus on spiritual and social transformation as much as on tasks, campaigns, and the roller coaster of political wins and losses. In small group ministries, we can take risks, make mistakes, learn together, and deepen our engagement of justice work, spiritual growth, and the connections between the two.  

The Immigration Ministry began by developing partnerships with faith-based and other non-profits doing immigration reform in Boulder. Through those partnerships, they built personal relationships with immigrants in the area directly affected by the broken immigration policies of our country. One family in particular suffered through the deportation of the father who was the sole breadwinner of the family, leaving the wife and three daughters in the U.S. without his financial support and the grief of losing his presence.

Over the years, the Immigration Ministry led the entire congregation (including children and youth) in spiritually supported education and worship services about immigration.

They participated in government advocacy, addressing systemic injustice through legislative and other government organizations.

They attended and led non-violent direct actions including vigils and protests.

They committed to sharing church resources (money, church space, etc.) with their partners.

And most of all, their work for justice was and is done as “accompanying” - always following the voices of those impacted by the oppression.

One of the congregation’s partners is the Metro Denver Sanctuary Coalition, a collection of nine congregations and staffed by the American Friends Service Committee. Just after the election of President Trump, that group asked UUCB to consider starting a Boulder County “branch” of the coalition so that the sanctuary movement could expand beyond the Denver area. Rev. Kelly Dignan took the lead, and the Boulder County Sanctuary Coalition is now comprised of 11 churches from various denominations.

At that same time, UUCB was asked to consider being a sanctuary congregation, which at first seemed unlikely since there was no shower in the church building and we had very minimal space in which a guest could live. However, an immigrant who had been in sanctuary said she would rather use a bucket for a shower than to be separated from her family.

The Immigration Ministry set to work to lead a four month discernment process for the congregation. They developed brochures, articles and slides about what it means to be a sanctuary host. It was clear from the beginning that the Boulder County Sanctuary Coalition would be essential to the effort. If there was to be 24 hour, seven day a week  coverage for the front door of the church (which had been the case in other sanctuary churches for security reasons), UUCB would need 200 volunteers a month. The coalition churches stepped up and pledged their support.

The Immigration Ministry articulated the reasons why UUCB should consider being a sanctuary congregation:

  • Sanctuary is something only churches can offer at this point. It is more than helping just one person or family. It is a faith statement, a public cry to our government to reform broken immigration policies.
  • As a religious institution, we can offer Sanctuary as a religious practice done within the confines of Federal “Sensitive Locations” Policy.  It is a key part of our religious exercise.
  • When it is offered, there is no intent to hide a person’s whereabouts from federal authorities or to transport the person. We are open and honest with the authorities regarding our activities and intentions and the fact that we feel we are performing our religious duty. For these reasons, it is a legal act that offers courageous love to a vulnerable population in our country.
  • As Unitarian Universalists, we have a vision of a world fueled by love - not hatred, division or fear. Deportations are tearing families apart and creating trauma in our communities.  If we are not working to solve the problem of hatred, we are part of the problem.
  • The good news is that Congress can fix this problem. They have the power to do so, but they have not. In the meantime, we can and will continue to do our religious duty.

As part of the discernment process, the Immigration Ministry contacted the church’s largest long-term renter (a preschool) and met with the owner and director. Prepared materials were provided, and the team offered to meet with parents who had questions. That was in mid-July 2017. The Immigration Ministry also contacted every church committee and asked if they could present information and answer questions. Five open “forums” were held at varying dates and times. Two all-church forums were held which included presentations from lawyers and the minister of First Unitarian Society of Denver (Rev. Mike Morran) because of their involvement in sanctuary. Rev. Kelly Dignan preached about covenant, a foundation for our faith; that for big decisions like this, the process is as important as the decision itself. Discernment comes from the same root word as discussion, not debate. Whatever the church decides, our first commitment is to stay connected to each other. The first Sunday in October, a “straw poll” was taken to gauge the congregation's interest in becoming a sanctuary church.

The week before the vote, which was scheduled for October 29 2017, the renter gave UUCB notice that they would be terminating their lease, leaving UUCB with a $35,000 budget shortfall in the current fiscal year. Parents from the preschool went to the local newspaper, so press coverage began even before the congregational vote.

The congregation was informed about all of this, and the vote was held. The motion was:

We, the members of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Boulder, Colorado (UUCB), in accordance with the Seven Principles of our Unitarian Universalist Association and our mission of “Actively promoting Unitarian Universalist values here and in the wider world and sustaining these efforts through our culture of social justice and generosity,” hereby declare that when the opportunity arises UUCB will serve as a host sanctuary congregation.

We understand that, in collaboration with the Metro Denver Sanctuary Coalition, a host sanctuary congregation will provide an undocumented immigrant with a safe space for their body and spirit while openly resisting deportation, allowing the immigrant to retain the support of their family and community and to have a platform to publicly proclaim their prophetic message of just and humane immigration policy. We commit to shared decision-making with the immigrant guest throughout this process.

Forty six percent of the congregation attended the meeting. 124 votes were collected. 109 were affirmative, 12 negative, and there were three abstentions. The percentage of the yes/no votes submitted was 90% yes.

The renter did, in fact, terminate their lease. Not only was there a budget gap of $35,000, but the space they occupied needed to be painted, re-carpeted and cleaned. A security assessment revealed the need for security cameras, new door locks and window coverings. When it rains it pours, and the boiler (heater) failed, costing $10,200 to replace. It became clear that offering courageous love to transform the world is not courageous if there is no risk. And it became clear that our risks we were nothing compared to the risks faced by our immigrant neighbors.

So as the Immigration Ministry Team began to prepare for a guest, others set to work to raise the almost $60,000 needed to cover the budget gap and update the building. Within two months, the congregation raised $20,000 from its members. The UUCB Endowment Fund covered half the cost of the new boiler. Jefferson Unitarian Church raised $6,300 in one Sunday for UUCB. Two other local UU congregations committed $5,000. The UUA crowdsourcing platform, Faithify, was used to raise $7,500; the Pacific Western Region supported that campaign, and donations came from all over the country. The Mountain Desert District awarded UUCB a Chalice Lighter Grant targeted for $5,000. The United Church of Christ gave us the opportunity to apply for a grant which is still in process. The immigrant community donated resources to paint and build a shower. The generosity and support was and continues to be overwhelming.

Our sanctuary guest, Ingrid Encalada LaTorre arrived on December 16, 2017 along with her two young sons Bryant (9) and Anibal (2). Bryant was enrolled in the school directly behind the church and was able to start as the second semester began.

As of February, 2018, 200 volunteers are trained to be “door hosts” and “overnight hosts.” Each day people from UUCB, Boulder County Sanctuary Coalition, the UUCB neighborhood and other organizations join in the beautiful work of enacting justice and building the Beloved Community.

Twice a month, the small group ministry model is used for volunteers to reflect on how they are being changed and how their theology sustains their work. Monthly, there are community parties to offer Ingrid support and sustain the volunteers’ energy.

Ingrid is our leader. We follow her voice for advocacy and direct action to change the system that threatens to tear her family apart.

UU Church of Boulder is saying “thank you” to everyone who has participated in this effort so far. We are better together. Courageous love transforms the world.

For more information or to contact our Sanctuary Ministry Team, visit our website: