OCBC as a Sanctuary Church

Guided by the Spirit, the congregation at Old Cambridge Baptist Church is following a Divine call to cultivate sanctuary for all persons – especially for those marginalized and put at risk by interpersonal violence and oppressive governmental policy. We see sanctuary as a concrete, yet partial sign of the presence of the Reign of God in our midst today – a Reign that Jesus embodied. Thus, taking the mission of Jesus as our own, we endeavor to bring good news and to be good news to the poor, to proclaim and to practice release for those in captivity, to promote and provoke sight where we are collectively blinded, and to worship and work for the freedom for all the oppressed (rooted in Luke 4:18).

In light of our sense of call, we as a congregation commit ourselves to supporting Sanctuary practices for those most at risk in our current era, including the undocumented and Muslims targeted by individual and institutional discrimination, and will continually discern the most vital ways to place ourselves, institutionally and individually, in positions of holy risk to be in solidarity with our neighbors.

(adopted by the congregation on January 22, 2017)

OCBC's Sanctuary History

In the mid-1980s a number of religious communities found a way to take responsibility for the oppression and suffering of people in Central America under regimes supported by the U.S. government.  With the example of a church in Tucson, AZ and the coordination of the Chicago Religious Task Force on Central America, churches began sponsoring political refugees, even though undocumented, with an important story to tell about their experience.  The idea was to provide at least symbolic sanctuary to these persons and give them a platform from which to tell their stories and educate folks in the U.S.  OCBC responded to this appeal in a year-long consideration of the risks a church undertook for “furthering the entrance or harboring an undocumented alien.  Even though facing possible fines and imprisonment, OCBC finally voted unanimously to become a Sanctuary church.  We were very much influenced by the story of a French village harboring and assisting Jews fleeing Nazi Germany, as told in the book, “Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed” by Phillip Hallie. (Deuteronomy 19:10: “And…let no innocent blood be shed in the land which the Lord your God is giving you, or else the responsibility for that blood will fall upon you.”)

On December 4, 1984, OCBC became host to “Estela Ramirez,” a Salvadoran trade unionist who was arrested and tortured on three separate occasions between 1981 and 1984 for her work. She took up residence in OCBC’s chapel for two weeks, where she was constantly surrounded by at least two “vigiling” members from OCBC who were trained in how to handle the very real threat of action by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.  “Estela” started with a press conference in the OCBC Parish Hall, supported by members of the OCBC Sanctuary Committee.  Over the next three years, she spoke at many churches, gave interviews for newspapers, TV and radio, enlightening folks in the Boston area about the reality of El Salvador through her own experience.  The Sanctuary movement then helped her bring her three children to the States, and the OCBC Sanctuary Committee helped her and her children successfully file for political asylum.

The congregation remains dedicated to today’s undocumented immigrants, who are often fleeing problems still attributable in part to US policies.