Sanctuary Church

First Congregational Church of Ithaca Declares Sanctuary Church Status

Read a recent article from Ithaca Week about our sanctuary space: “Sanctuary Space: An Ithaca Church’s Efforts to Welcome All”


Make a donation towards necessary building improvements for hospitality
and security to welcome a sanctuary guest to First Congregational Church of Ithaca


On May 5, 2019, following a process of education and discernment, the First Congregational Church of Ithaca (FCCI)’s membership voted to become a Sanctuary Church, pledging to provide shelter as needed for an undocumented immigrant who is seeking sanctuary while the legal challenge to deportation is in process. All Ithaca Sanctuary Alliance member congregations have committed to supporting FCCI by providing material, interpersonal and spiritual support.

The Rev. Dr. David Kaden, Senior Minister of the First Congregational Church, stated: “Becoming a sanctuary church is an extension of one of our core principles in the United Church of Christ: ‘no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here’. Engaging in the Sanctuary process is a statement of extravagant welcome for at-risk members of our community, modeled on the principle of God’s unconditional grace offered to all.”

“The act of declaring ourselves a sanctuary congregation in solidarity with so many Ithaca faith communities and seasoned advocacy groups is designed to further a climate of welcome, compassion, and justice amid the omnipresent reminders of bias toward immigrants in today’s news cycle,” said Andy Weislogel, FCCI Church Council President.

In March 2018, Ithaca-area congregations, community organizations, and concerned community members launched an interfaith coalition to stand in solidarity with those immigrants in our community and region at risk of deportation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The Ithaca Sanctuary Alliance is a coalition of congregations, community organizations, and concerned individuals in and around Ithaca that support immigrants fleeing violence or in danger of deportation. The current member organizations are: St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, First Baptist Church in Ithaca, Congregation Tikkun v’Or Ithaca Reform Temple, First Unitarian Society of Ithaca, St. Catherine of Siena Parish, Forest Home Chapel United Methodist Church, Ithaca Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), Living Hope Fellowship and First Congregational Church of Ithaca (United Church of Christ).

Alliance members pledge to: 1) Educate themselves and the community about immigration-related issues; 2) Advocate for justice and comprehensive humane immigration reform; and 3) Accompany and support immigrants and their families, at their request, when facing immigration related hearings or meetings, or as guests in sanctuary.

The Ithaca Sanctuary Alliance invites other congregations, organizations, and members of the community to join us in assisting those at risk. Contact Michael Smith for more information or to get involved,, 607.272.4730.

Follow the FCC Ithaca Sanctuary Church Facebook page to receive the latest news.

The First Congregational Church of Ithaca is located at 309 Highland Road. For more information and contacts, visit


Further Information about Accepting Persons into Physical Sanctuary:

  • A potential sanctuary guest must not have been charged with any serious legal offense.
  • The person needs to be at immediate risk of deportation by ICE and either have, or be in the process of securing, legal representation.
  • The person should be made aware that we cannot guarantee their safety. There is currently no law preventing officials from entering a church property – this forbearance has only been customary. But while we cannot prevent the execution of a legal warrant, we can stand in witness and resistance to it.
  • The individual will understand that once all legal challenges have been exhausted, physical sanctuary will end but other means of support will still be offered.
  • The individual should understand that the provision of physical sanctuary must be accompanied by a public announcement via the media. In this way we are being open and not hiding what is happening. Without such a public notification, the receiving community would be considered to be “harboring” an undocumented person and thus be open to legal liability.