Today on the Church’s calendar we remember three women who were executed during the reign of Elizabeth I for being the hands, feet and heart of Jesus. Margaret Ward, Margaret Clitherow, and Anne Line were arrested and put to death for the crime of providing sanctuary to Roman Catholic priests. They believed that God’s love was such that no person should be put in prison, exiled, or executed for the way they worshiped God. As I read their stories this morning I couldn’t help but think of the story of immigrants in our own nation today. The Church has a millennia old tradition of providing sanctuary for those seeking refuge. In fact the word sanctuary literally means a place of refuge or safety, fitting I believe that the most sacred space in our church is called the Sanctuary, the area where the altar stands.
Today at least 45 churches around the nation are providing sanctuary for immigrants. And while there is no law preventing Immigration and Customs Enforcement from entering churches to arrest immigrants, they have been following their decades old policy, refraining from making immigration arrests in such “sensitive locations.” Margaret Ward, Margaret Clitherow, and Anne Line are remembered for their courage and integrity in standing up to both a government and a Church that were intent on removing those who they feared would taint society, and thus were dangerous. They died as martyrs, doing what I believe Jesus would have done. As followers of Jesus, we continue to struggle to find our appropriate response to a world and a government that fails to see the face of Jesus in the least of these. But as persecution continues, and increases, find it we must! If we are to take serious our baptismal vow to strive for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being, then I think we need to begin having serious conversations about how we, as a faith community, will respond to these trying times. What do we do when our neighbors arrive, grabbing onto God’s altar crying for sanctuary, crying for refuge and safety? I would like for us to consider what St. John the Evangelist might look like as a church with sanctuary space, being willing to be a place of true sanctuary for all God’s people. Remember these most vulnerable amongst us in our prayers and pray for justice and peace to prevail.
Fr. Jeremy is an Episcopal Priest and a Franciscan Friar. He is a graduate of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida with a Bachelor's in History, and Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia with a Master of Divinity. He currently serves as Rector of the Episcopal Church of St. John the Evangelist in Flossmoor, IL and is a Friar in the Community of Francis & Clare.