August 25, 2019
ELCA: A Sanctuary Church Body

On Wednesday, August 7, the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Milwaukee, WI adopted a resolution declaring the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to be a sanctuary church body. You can find the entire resolution at the end of this message.

There were 26 Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod voting members at the assembly, which was composed of approximately 950 voting members. It was clear during discussion of the then-proposed resolution that adoption would be significant in the life of this church.

Voting members from synods directly impacted by the presence of immigrants on their territories, as well as others, spoke about ways congregations already assist immigrant families. That assistance takes many forms: provision of food, clothing, and other essentials; ESL classes; support through Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services and (a relatively new ELCA ministry) Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities (AMMPARO*). I believe that these testimonies had a strong impact upon voting members.

It seems to me that voting members were also influenced by those who reminded the assembly that the Lutheran witness in the U.S. was begun by immigrants, namely Germans, Swedes, Africans, Norwegians, Slovaks, and many others. Many among those diverse groups were persecuted, oppressed, and marginalized in the course of their daily lives.

So, the declaration grows out of our self-understanding as an immigrant church, and it affirms ELCA ministries to migrants and refugees already taking place in border states. It is about Jesus’ call to serve strangers in our midst who are in need (think: parable of the Prodigal Son). This declaration does not direct congregations to break the law. Some would say it this way: the declaration is descriptive, not prescriptive.

I have arranged three meetings on September 4 at different locations across the synod territory so that we can discuss the resolution together. You are welcome to attend any one of the meetings: St. Paul Lutheran Church, Dallas (10:00 a.m.); Lutheran Center, Schoenersville (1:00 p.m.); Bern Lutheran Church, Bern Township (3:30 p.m.).

With gratitude for your faithful ministry,

Bishop Samuel Zeiser

*I encourage you to read about AMMPARO on the ELCA website: (


Motion adopted at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly (with approved amendments):

To receive with gratitude the memorial from the Metropolitan New York Synod concerning sanctuary;

To reaffirm the long-term and growing commitment of this church to migrants and refugees and to the policy questions involved, as exemplified most recently in the comprehensive strategy accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities (AMMPARO);

To recognize that the ELCA in congregations, synods and the churchwide organization are already taking the actions requested by this memorial; and

To request that appropriate staff on the AMMPARO team, LIRS and the Domestic Mission, Global Mission, and Mission Advancement units review the existing strategies and practices by the five current sanctuary synods and develop a plan for additional tools that provide for education and discernment around sanctuary;

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America declares itself a sanctuary church body; and

To request the ELCA Church Council, in consultation with the appropriate churchwide units and offices, provide guidance for the three expressions of this church about what it means to be a sanctuary church body and provide a report to the 2022 Churchwide Assembly.
Read: ELCA Sanctuary Denomination Talking Points