by Zach Martinez, Pastor, Sojourn Mennonite Church
Sojourn Mennonite Church adopted at statement on sanctuary and accompaniment for respect to our immigrant neighbors on August 27, 2017. That same night, we also decided to join Fort Collins’ Interfaith Sanctuary and Accompaniment Coalition (ISAAC). The decision had been a long process. Sojourn formed a committee to explore the possibility in March, and, after several committee and congregational meetings, we came to a unanimous consensus.
In all fairness, there was little question whether or not Sojourn was going to join ISAAC and adopt a statement on sanctuary and accompaniment. Sanctuary and accompaniment for our immigrant friends is perfectly in line with our theological values. The more difficult questions, which had vexed us for months, were: What is this going to mean for us? What can we provide people who are facing the possibility of deportation?
Sojourn has no building of its own. We gather for worship in the narthex of a Presbyterian Church in west Fort Collins. So physical sanctuary was out of the question. We are small – we have big hearts, but when it comes to the sustained work of sanctuary and accompaniment, we worried that any initial momentum brought forth by our decision would quickly burn out if such a heavy burden were placed on so few people.
Wanting to do something and to make our position known, Sojourn decided to adopt the statement and join ISAAC without a clear vision of our path. In fact, we tabled that discussion at our congregational meeting because we had no clue what we were going to do. Feeling called to emulate those who have gone before us and to take seriously Christ’s admonition to welcome the stranger, we acted on faith. This, I believe, is paying dividends for our congregation.
In the wake of the September 5th announcement that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program would be rescinded, an opportunity for Sojourn to find its own unique role in ISAAC emerged. While attending a Dreamers United meeting, one of our members was informed of a need in the Dreamer community: they needed access to a fund that would help Dreamer fill basic needs so they continue their education. As the threat of deportation once again became a reality, the need to continue their education became more acute.
This need was immediately brought to the Churches in ISAAC. We needed to act fast as the DACA renewal deadline was quickly approaching. There are other churches, with greater resources than Sojourn in ISAAC. These larger churches, however, also have a more rigid decision making processes, and decisions can take longer. In light such as this, Sojourn’s size was no longer seen as a limitation, but as an opportunity. Having fewer members meant that we could make a decision quickly, and by the end of that week, Sojourn has reached another unanimous consensus: we would create the Community Dreamer Fund at Sojourn.
What came next was a long trek through the intricacies of non-profit tax law. Our treasurer and I had conversations with CPAs. One congregant worked tirelessly on finding and inviting Sojourn members and community members to serve on a new board that would administer funds, and she wrote the board’s bylaws. We developed an application and a process for administering funds. And, after weeks of work, we arrived.
The Community Dreamer Fund at Sojourn empowers Dreamer students at CSU, Front Range Community College Fort Collins Campus, Poudre School District, and Thompson Valley School District by walking alongside them and helping to ensure that have every opportunity to complete their next educational milestone. On the approval of the board, funds can be administered to students as small grants. This funding can cover anything the students need. Groceries, rent, books, insurance, and the like would all be covered based on board approval. Our board is made up of both members in the community and Sojourn members and is comprised of a disbursement committee and a fundraising committee. If you like to know more, you can follow this link http://sojournmennonite.org/give/dreamers/.
From our perspective, the formation of the Community Dreamer Fund at Sojourn emerged through following the movement of the Spirit in our community. We were unsure of where we would end up, and how or whether we could even be of any help to ISAAC. However, in answering that call on faith we found our unique niche. We cannot offer physical sanctuary. We are small in number. But we’ve also heard stories about mustard seeds and yeast. Turns out they were true.