NYAPC — Becoming a Sanctuary Church

On March 21, 2017 we joined hands and in prayer with 60 other Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Unitarian and Humanist congregations (and about 200 people at the the rally) to launch the DMV (District-Maryland-Virginia) Sanctuary Network.    It was a glorious day to celebrate our unity in diversity and our pledge to support the most vulnerable in our community.  Perhaps you are wondering how we got here?  How did we become a Sanctuary Church?  Here is my (Alice’s)  perspective on how we became a sanctuary church, joining his historic and Spirit led movement.  

Immigrants and Refugees Welcome.”  In resistance to the Executive Order banning refugees from the seven majority Muslim countries and discriminating against Muslims, for the last two months those have been the words on our sermon board on both sides of our church.  Until the Executive ban is fully rescinded, until ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is no longer directed to raid immigrant homes in our community, and until DACA (Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals) candidates no longer live in fear of unfair deportation, that sign will continue to hang prominently in front The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington DC.  As Christians seeking after God’s justice and because of our physical positioning, just four blocks east of the White House, we feel this deep calling to stand up as a Sanctuary Church.

The Background of Becoming a Sanctuary Church

Last spring Kathy Doan, a ruling elder at The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church and a long time advocate for the immigrant community, and Maricelly Malave, Co-Founder of Sanctuary DMV (District Maryland Virginia), met with me to share an involving need for churches and communities to join the New Sanctuary Movement.  They shared the history of this ancient practice for temples, churches, and even whole cities to declare themselves as a place of refuge for people accused of crimes in which they feared unfair retribution. They shared that the US churches first used Sanctuary as part of the Underground Railroad helping slaves pass to freedom during the Civil War.

In the 1970s, when refugees from the Civil Wars in Central America began to come to the United States seeking shelter, the US government did not recognize them as political refugees seeking asylum.  Many were deported and faced death squads on their return.  In response to this dire situation the Sanctuary Movement was formed.  At its peak, there were over 500 member congregations. In 1986, the Sanctuary Movement won the inclusion of Central America as part of our immigration laws.

Starting the summer of 2014, we started seeing the return of the humanitarian crisis with thousands of unaccompanied minors fleeing violence and forced gang participation in Central America seeking safely in the United States. Moreover, eleven million undocumented persons are living in the United States, many who have lived here for more than ten years.  These members of our community — these friends, family members and neighbors are all at the risk of deportation.

In the fall of 2016, Kathy and Maricelly gave an Adult Education class presenting on Sanctuary movement. In October, the Session, the governing board of the church, voted to form a task force to study what it would mean to sign on as a sanctuary church.  Days before the Inauguration of the current President, by a vote of Session, The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church joined in with over 400 churches across the country to make the following public pledge:

As people of faith and people of conscience, we pledge to resist the newly elected administration’s policy proposals to target and deport millions of undocumented immigrants and discriminate against marginalized communities. We will open up our congregations and communities as sanctuary spaces for those targeted by hate, and work alongside our friends, families, and neighbors to ensure the dignity and human rights of all people.

This pledge affirmed the church’s role in the Sanctuary movement consistent with the church’s mission to be an inclusive justice seeking congregation trying to live out Jesus’ command that we welcome the hungry, the naked, the estranged and the outcast.

In signing the pledge, the church committed to hang a immigrants welcome sign out front of the church, to connect the church with those working in the field, to educate ourselves and then advocate for the needs of those seeking sanctuary, and to inform immigration service providers that the church is willing to provide sanctuary.  Due to of all of the details that still needed to be discussed, in January the church did not commit to physically housing individuals or families.

Where We Are At Now

Since January 20, we have seen policies, words, and inaction out of the current administration that deeply hurt immigrants, refugees, and both the Muslim and Jewish communities.  We are hearing immigrant neighbors say that they feel so scared that they are afraid to go to public spaces.  Some are afraid to send their children to school.  We have felt that our Christian faith has been deeply challenged, and that the justice of God is under deep threat and abuse.

In joining the Sanctuary Network a congregation needs to pledge support to one of 4 areas. Short of hosting ourselves, we have committed to the other areas.

  1. Hosting:    Actually taking a member of the community into sanctuary on the church property.   OR/ Supporting another congregation that is hosting a person in sanctuary.
  2. Accompaniment: Going with a member of the community to an ICE check in to be the eyes and ears on the ground as well as offering support and care.
  3. Rapid Response Network:  Being part of a network of people who respond when one of our neighbors’ homes is raided by ICE.
  4. Providing Know Your Rights Presentations for allies or immigrants

More on these 4 specific areas will follow in further articles.

In this New Sanctuary movement, as per the pledge, we have committed to stand along side all people who are under threat and vulnerable. These communities include the Black Lives Matter Movement, the Muslim community, the Jewish community, the LGBTQI community, and women.  Everyday we are seeking to see how we best live into this pledge.

Here is how we believe we have been in action thus far:

On the steps in front of the sanctuary days before the Executive Order (EO) was put in place, we hosted a press conference put together by Church World Service, The Presbyterian Office in Washington and Faith in the Public life — standing up against the then proposed EO barring refugees and discriminating against Muslims.  The words from Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, the new Director of the Presbyterian Office in Washington resonated with me: “Now is the time for the faith community to stand up for immigrants and refugees.  Now is the time to stand up for our common humanity.”


Since then, we have created petition asking Presbyterian members of Congress to stand for their faith and against the EO.  We sent in the petition with over 1,100 signatures from our congregation and from churches across the country.

Our church has joined in the “No Muslim Ban” protests against the Executive Order. We have gathered in front of the White House, at the steps of the Capital and at the Washington Monument protesting the current administration’s policies against immigrants and refugees.  We from age two to eighty have gathered after church walked the just four blocks over to the White House to add our voices to the many in protest.


We have shared the Session’s decisions with the congregation in worship and in our weekly newsletter.  The Sanctuary Taskforce has continued to gather and attend city wide meetings at All Souls Unitarian on how we can best live into our commitment and support both the immigrant community and places of faith. At those city wide meetings, members have began to train in Rapid Response Network training and Accompaniment training.  Kathy Doan has provided a workshop at the National Capital Presbytery Open Space to engage other Presbyterian churches in this network.

Additionally, we have begun to train the church staff  on how to respond if someone seeking sanctuary comes to our door.  Already we have visitors from Iran and Mexico wanting to learn more about our work as a Sanctuary church.

Looking to the future where there may be some very real need to take a long standing member of our local community into sanctuary, we have begun the planning of the necessary details:  where the person would sleep, shower and eat. We have also planned for legal representation for the church.  All of this planning takes a lot of time!

We continue to learn and discern where we are called and how we live into our new identity as a Sanctuary Church. We know it will not be easy and there is risk involved. But from the short time of becoming a Sanctuary Church, we have witnessed new well-springs of activism and engaged faith in our congregation. We hope that you join us in this calling too, and that as sisters and brothers united in one faith, one baptism, and one Lord, we may together to live into our shared faith where all are held up as beloved children of God.

For more information and for sources for this article, please visit:





Alice Tewell

For more information email alice.tewell@nyapc.org
















Mysticism, Social Action and Reconciliation – A Talk by Rev. Lionel Edmunds by guest blogger Meg House

On Saturday, March 18, Rev. Lionel Edmunds gave the first talk in a four-part series, “Spirit and Action: Learning from Howard Thurman,” sponsored by New York Avenue Presbyterian’s McClendon Scholar in Residence program.



Just move on up, for peace you’ll find,

Into the steeple of beautiful people

Where there’s only one kind.

–  From the spiritual “Move on Up,” by Curtis Mayfield

 Mayfield’s lyrics “capture in song our topic today,” said Rev. Edmunds as he began his talk on the spirituality of Howard Thurman and Thurman’s book, Jesus and the Disinherited. Mayfield, a contemporary of Thurman’s, expresses an African American spirituality: “Our spirit is traveling in an upward way, expressed in music, dance, and also social justice. … Acts of social justice and reconciliation are spiritual acts that move us toward that beautiful steeple of beautiful people.”

For Thurman, social justice and reconciliation came from a “profound spiritual root,” said Edmunds. Thurman’s prophetic witness was an “overflow of mysticism, a response to a personal encounter with God.”

All of God’s Children Got Wings. Mysticism is a fairly recent word in Christianity, Edmunds said, noting that you won’t find the word in the bible. But it has always been a part of the faith. “It’s natural for a bird to fly and it’s natural for a Christian to be a mystic. … ‘I got wings, you got wings, all of God’s children got wings.’ Whether we use them is another thing!”

Edmunds emphasized mysticism’s connection to the world. “Some folks think mysticism means that you got God on your quick dial,” he said, and that it’s about the personal “God told me to tell you.”  But it’s connected to the political, he argued, quoting Isaiah. “In the year king Uzziah died, I saw the Lord” (Isaiah 6:1). Isaiah’s encounter with God was intertwined with what was happening in Israel’s political life.

An Overflow of Spirit. While Thurman didn’t call himself a mystic, saying the word had come into vogue after his own experiences, Edmunds noted that Thurman’s spiritual life fits the classic definition of mysticism offered by Bernard McGinn: “Mysticism is more about presence that it is about ecstatic experiences.” It’s always a process, a way of life.

Edmunds urged contemplation in silence: “At its root, prophetic activity is an overflow of what’s going on in your spirit. … Cultivate a quiet time, get in touch with your spirit, and that’s going to help in you in your activism.”  Edmunds said it takes at least 13 minutes for the body and mind to become quiet — “And you shouldn’t be listening to Morning Joe!” In addition, various tools, what Thurman called “clotheslines,” can help with distracting thoughts. Edmunds held up his own homemade rosary, and noted that words, scripture or lines from songs can be helpful.

Pray Without Ceasing. You don’t need a class, he said. “Just take the bird out of the cage, and it will fly by itself. The Spirit takes natural ascent to be in the presence of God.”  It’s about fostering an awareness that you can carry with you into your day. That’s what Paul meant by “pray without ceasing.”

Mysticism isn’t just individual; it is communal. And communities that have been oppressed “are uniquely positioned” to understand the teachings of Jesus, said Edmunds.

While Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited is often called black theology, “it’s about spiritual theology that transcends black liberation. It’s human liberation,” said Edmunds. “It’s beyond feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, it’s about liberation from anything that tries to deprive me of who I am as a child of God.”


This was the first talk in a series of four sponsored by the McClendon Scholar in Residence Program. Please join us for future programs!

 April 8, 10 to noon, at Luther Place Memorial Church

Rev. Karen Brau of Luther Place Memorial, Spiritual Activists: Five Lessons for Today

 May 6, 10 to noon, at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church

Rev. Bill Lamar of Metropolitan A.M.E.,  The Spiritual Work of Prophetic People

 May 20, 10 to noon, at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church

Rev. Joe Daniels of Emory United Methodist, Where Do We Go From Here?

Spiritual Practice: Expression in Clay, Pastels and Mandalas

Expressions in Clay, Pastels, and Mandalas  –  Spiritual Practice for Lent

Week of March 12


 Mandalas are common in Buddhism. They have been shared with all of us as a way to focus in on prayer through color and concentration of breath. You are invited to select the mandala design you are most drawn to.

Take in 3 breaths (invoking the presence of the Trinity) and then, without thinking too hard, select a color. Begin on the outside of the design. Then, watching your breathing, notice also what thoughts are coming up for you. When your attention starts to wander, this may be an invitation to select another color. As you move from the outside towards the inside of the design, follow your breath and focus in on the Trinity….What has come up for you?

Let the working of your hands reflect the prayer of your heart.

Art offers a chance to lead us into prayer not just through our words or our minds, but our hands! The invitation to prayer through art is a way to notice your breath through your selection of colors, by the strokes you make, or by the rhythm you proceed into your breath and art. In art practices, there is a chance to focus on: the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, your Faith and then get “lost” in the art work, through your breathing and see where the Spirit takes you! Use these physical tools as an outpouring for your prayer, meditation, and reflection. As you spend time with these media, you may want to think about someone or something in your prayers, a favorite scripture, something on your mind.

Expressions through clay …

􏰀􏰁Take a long, deep breath and slowly exhale.
􏰀􏰁Think about what you would like to ponder in this place today.
􏰀􏰁Close your eyes and take another deep breath.
􏰀􏰁Take the clay in your hands.
􏰀􏰁Spend a moment being with yourself and your God.
􏰀􏰁Let your hands start when and how they will, and watch the expression flow.

OR … just pick up a piece of clay—breathe in the Spirit of God, and let your hands take you where they will!

Expressions through pastels …

􏰀􏰁Enter into a time of silence
􏰀􏰁Pause to call out to God and ask that you might know God’s presence. 􏰀􏰁After a brief reflection (longer if you’d like), begin to draw … and simply be open to viewing your heart and your faith.
􏰀􏰁If your mind begins to wander, you may want to choose another color.


The text describing the above Spiritual Practice has been excerpted from packed “Exploring Spiritual Practices” from Silent Retreats at The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church.  We thank the writers of the packet. 

Spiritual Practice: Embodied Prayer

Spiritual Practice: Embodied Prayer/ Spiritual Movement

Practice for week of March 5


God has given us a body; we come in every shape and size imaginable. Our body moves through space and time – articulating our passions, energy, emotions, dreams  yearning for connection and communion with one another and with God. There are many forms of Embodied Prayer. Labyrinth walking, artwork and even breath prayer are forms of embodied prayer offered at this solitude retreat. The invitation here is to practice movement that brings us close to the Divine. In this way, we connect to the truth that God became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ; and we are now Christ’s hands and feet for the world. We honor the mystery and grace of being…of being a body. When we move to music and rhythms, in community, it is possible to experience sensations of wholeness, flow and tingly energy – awareness that we are alive and that the Spirit is alive in us!

At the heart of Embodied Prayer is the understanding that our body is a great source of wisdom and healing for us – a profound gift. As we access the gift of body wisdom in community, we open deeply to God, our neighbor and our- selves. All that is required is an open heart and a willingness to explore.

Here is the text for our embodied dance for Lent:

#286 “Breathe on Me, Breath of God”

Breathe on me, Breath of God, fill me with life anew,

that I may love what thou dost love,

and do what thou wouldst do. (Repeat 2 times)

The text above is from the “Exploring Spiritual Practices” packet used during the Silent Retreat at The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church.

Lenten Practices for the Spirit and Resistance

Lenten Practices for 2017 @ The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church


Lent is a time for purposeful centering, a time when we have the opportunity to dig into the broad landscape of our faith seeking to love God, neighbor and ourselves with our whole hearts, minds and souls. I love the honesty of this season — this time of wrestling to discern who we truly are and whose we are called to be.

During this season of Lent, I invite you to engage in a combination of spiritual practices and practices of service, reconciliation or resistance.  We begin with spiritual practices to draw us deeper to our individual lives of faith and community-wide relationship from God. Then emboldened through a these practices with God, we engage in our feet, hands and hearts to enter more deeply into God’s world by serving the world, reconciling with a neighbor, or resisting policies or actions that hurt God’s beloved community.

During children’s time (in worship) and gathering time (the time just before Sunday School), we will be learning and a different spiritual practice.  The hope is that you as a family or as a individual will continue this particular spiritual practice throughout the week as well as meditate on the scripture passage from the previous or upcoming Sunday.  The last column is left intentionally blank for you to fill in what accompanying practice you will commit to each week.  I have included 25 ideas in no particular order below the chart.

Here is ‘schedule’ of Spiritual Practices and accompany practices of service, reconciliation or resistance for you to use throughout Lent.

Blessings,  Alice

Lenten Spiritual Practices and Practices of Service, Reconciliation or Resistance

Biblical Story

Spiritual Practice

Practice of Service, Resistance or Reconciliation

(you write in these yourself)

First Sunday of Lent

March 5

Jesus’ Temptation

Matthew 4:1-11

Embodied Prayer/ Spiritual Movement

Second Sunday of Lent

March 12


John 3:1-17

Expressions in Clay and Mandalas

Third Sunday of Lent

March 19

Women at the Well

John 4:5-42

Biblical Storytelling

Fourth Sunday of Lent

March 26

Jesus sees the Blind Man and heals him

John 9:1-41

Labyrinth Walking

and Spiritual Walking

Fifth Sunday of Lent

April 2

Lazarus comes to life

John 11:1-45

Breath Prayer

Palm Sunday

April 9

Palm Sunday

Matthew 21:1-11

Meditative Yoga

Holy Monday, April 10

John 12:1-11

Lectio Divina

Holy Tuesday, April 11

John 12:20-36

Spiritual Journaling

Holy Wednesday, April 12

John 13:21-32

Contemplation with Artwork

Maundy Thursday, April 13

John 13:1-17, 31-25

Spiritual Conversations

Good Friday, April 14

John 18:1-19:42

Breath Prayer

Holy Saturday, April 15

John 19:38-42

Embodied Prayer/ Spiritual Movement

Easter, April 16

John 20:1-18

Biblical Storytelling

Ideas for acts of service, resistance and/or reconciliation for all ages (in no particular order).  Alice’s suggestion is to pick one a week for Lent and one a day for Holy Week.

  1. Read through all or one of the Gospels and then reflect on what it means for your life.
  2. Learn about an issue you care about and then attend a protest.
  3. Write to your member of Congress and then deliver the letter.
  4. Attend a Bible study at the church or study the Bible with family or friends. 
  5. Make a breakfast casserole for the guests in the Radcliffe Room.
  6. Write a letter to someone you know who is feeling left out and welcome them. 
  7. Email Alice a letter of greetings to email the children at First Havana in Cuba.
  8. Read a book about something you do not know that you should know more about.
  9. Learn all of the names of the students in your class, in the office you work with or in your neighborhood.
  10. Ask a neighbor if they would like help with their garden.
  11. Make dinner for your family and then help freeze the extras for another meal.
  12. Collect and deliver adult sized spring and summer clothing for the Radcliffe Room Clothing closet.
  13. Write a note of appreciation for your teacher or colleague.
  14. Donate money to your church or someone in need.
  15. Plan on singing with the children’s/ youth choir or with the adult choir.
  16. Volunteer to help clean up the clothing closet at church.
  17. Collect and deliver extra children’s and teenage books to donate to the book giveaway at Community Club.
  18. If there is someone in your life who who have had a disagreement with, go and make peace with them.
  19. Spend 40 days or a week giving something up that you like.  Use those days to focus on your faith.
  20. Write a blog post about your faith and practices for the NYAPC church blog. Email entry to Alice.
  21. Write a Opt. Ed for the newspaper.
  22. Learn a hymn by heart.
  23. Make a handmade gift for someone who doesn’t receive many gifts.
  24. Take someone who is experiencing homelessness out to lunch.
  25. Share your Lenten practices with someone else.

Looking toward Sunday March 5 — 1st Sunday of Lent

Matthew 4:1-11:  Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”  Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'” Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

Our Gospel reading for Sunday March 5 is the story of Jesus being in the wilderness for 40 days and in his time there being tempted by Satan. It is included in all three of the Synoptic Gospels and Hebrews 4:15 highlighting Jesus’ humanity and identification with all of us. We are tempted daily, but as both divine and human, Jesus Christ was tempted too.

Through this temptation story see that Jesus would not compromise for desires of personal or social authority.  Jesus would not compromise for political or religious power.  Jesus would not compromise to theatrics or to demands of others.

For each temptation, Jesus responded to Satan each time with Scripture.  After 40 days of being in the desert without sustenance and shelter, Jesus is exhausted and rather beat down. Jesus does not need to rely on his own words because he deeply knows the words of the law and the prophets that have come before him. 

He fulfills the command at the heart of the Hebrew scriptures “Hear, O Israel:  The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your should and all your might.” These are the words that introduce the Shema, the central confession of faith and the center of every Jewish prayer service. 

During this Lenten season, my discipline will be to commit more of scripture to memory.

Sometimes I use these passages that I know by heart on a card when I can not seem to find the appropriate words.  More often, I use these passages as an internal compass when making a decision. I have to admit that most passages I have not memorized in full.  I know a part of the passage or have an general idea so I look it up on the internet.  That usually works.

But the passages that I know completely sit deeper on my soul than the ones I might casually know.  These memorized passages become written on our heart and embedded into the body of our soul.  These are the passages we can take out in in all moments of life from those moments when we want to say speak but can not find our own words.  These times can come in any moment – from times of joy and thanksgiving to times of anger and lament. 

These are the passages that I hope guide my actions even when I am not aware.  My favorite among these is Romans 8:38-39, which I know from singing it out-loud.  Perhaps it can be your prayer for today.  “For I am convinced that neither death nor life nor angels nor principalities nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth nor any other created thing shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”



Church and World


From Doug Ottati’s Reforming Protestantism: At the same time that we are in the world, because the world is God’s good creation, we are also called to acknowledge that we are with the world, confessing our common faults and sins. The church is simultaneously against the world – which is to say that we are called to a prophetic witness, to stand with the disenfranchised. Ottati puts it this way: “Genuinely reforming churches will not shrink from the prophetic task. . . . [T]hey will denounce the persistent scourges of racism, sexism, and homophobia. They will point to severe economic disparities among communities linked in a single garment of global interdependence…[The] world may respond with benign neglect and refuse to take the church seriously. . . . In that case, prophetic churches have all the more reason to remain in the world, refusing to leave it alone. [The church] has every reason to be pests and persistent nuisances, calling into question business as usual. . . . The prophetic task may have its cost and burdens. . . . The task of faithfully objecting to the forfeiture of the good and abundant life for which we are fitted may place the church into direct opposition to the principalities, powers, and climates of opinion. . . . It may lead others to question the church’s good sense or prudence. . . . By the faithful logic of theocentric devotion, none of these possibilities constitutes a reason to relinquish or attenuate the critical and prophetic attitude. . . . God alone is God, and we should serve no others. Reforming churches have to remain true to the first commandment.”