Transformed by angels

Sanctuary churches follow God on a journey

Jan 7, 2019 by

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Of the many dangers, challenges and reasons not to become a sanctuary congregation, pastors of such churches say in interviews that potential legal ramifications seem to worry them least of all.

Yes, there is a possibility of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents barging through a church’s doors and apprehending not just the insufficiently documented person but also their children and any pastor who might stand in their way. But that is a relatively minor concern.

The bigger danger is the high probability of being transformed by obedience to the Holy Spirit.

Mexican citizen Carmela Apolonio and her four children entered into sanctuary Dec. 13 at Germantown Mennonite Church in Philadelphia.

Speaking in support of her on the church’s steps that day, associate pastor John Bergen said early Christians and Jews believed it was wrong to deny someone hospitality.

“Because in offering someone hospitality you might be unknowingly entertaining angels,” he said. “Now, offering hospitality to angels is dangerous, because they bring transformation, they bring change. And so today I don’t believe we are welcoming Carmela and her family so much as Car­mela’s family is welcoming us into their struggle.”

Though it is not a member of Mennonite Church USA, Germantown’s sanctuary quest mirrors the basic components of MC USA’s Pathways study guide — a Sunday school curriculum intended to affirm MC USA’s core beliefs as churches live out God’s mission. The study guide is broken down into the three “renewed commitments” that came out of MC USA’s Journey Forward renewal process: follow Jesus, witness to God’s peace and experience transformation.

A sanctuary congregation that witnesses to God’s peace by extending a helping hand to the least of these (Matt. 25:45) cannot avoid experiencing transformation. And as Germantown shows, MC USA is not the only body capable of doing so. Love is available to be shared by all, no matter if a church is urban or rural, traditional or progressive.

Brad Roth, pastor of West Zion Mennonite Church of Moundridge, Kan., wrote in a December Sojourners article, “Just Don’t Call It Social Justice,” that rural churches also share hope for a just future by building relationships and advocating for the common good.

“It’s love of neighbor that mobilizes rural folks,” he says. “. . . Hope is what gives us the courage to stand with God’s people at the rural margins — and wherever else God’s Spirit calls us.”

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