An estimated 11.3 million undocumented immigrants precariously move in and out of the shadows in the United States. Sometimes, desperate situations arise and they need a safe place to stay – sanctuary. With that in mind, the James Reeb Unitarian Universalist Congregation on Madison’s east side has launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for immigrants who seek sanctuary while challenging a deportation order that would potentially tear their family apart.

“The big-picture goal is to renovate a piece of one our lesser-used rooms to be able to provide a space for an immigrant should somebody we identify need sanctuary,” Rev. Karen Armina, the congregation’s minister, tells Madison365. “The campaign goal’s big goal is to raise $30,000 for that. The crowdsourcing campaign’s goal is to cover $10,000 of that cost and then there are other sources we are looking at.”

James Reeb Unitarian Universalist Congregation (JRUUC) is located on 2146 E. Johnson St. on Madison’s east side and is a member of the nonprofit, multifaith-based Dane Sanctuary Coalition (DSC). They have recruited 37 sanctuary volunteers of its own to help with the needs of an immigrant in sanctuary in any DSC member congregation.

Rev. Karen Armina

Providing sanctuary for someone in serious need is what the congregation’s mission is all about – “taking the blessing that we have and helping others in the community,” Armina says.

“Our congregation was founded 25 years ago very much intentionally to be part of the east side community,” Armina says. “They wanted to create a church that was part of the neighborhood that was very much involved in the neighborhood that reaches out and was much more than just coming into worship. It was much more than just taking care of ourselves; but taking care of our community.”

Last November, the congregation voted almost unanimously to become the first sanctuary site on the east side of Madison. Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ, which is a sanctuary support congregation on the east side, is partnering with JRUUC to help raise a total of up to $30,000 for the necessary construction. “Which is fabulous,” Armina says. “We’re looking to do some fundraising together – we’re talking about a benefit concert and something else to raise money.

JRUUC is known for its “depth-of-heart,” accepting and welcoming people for who they are.

“There are three universalist churches in town and they each have a different flavor and a different kind of character,” Armina says. “They all do really good work in the community. We’re really getting to be known as the church that is out at protests and meetings and legal hearings and helping those people who really need it.”

JRUUC is a small congregation – just 115 members – but Armina says that, “our hearts are wide open for social and racial justice, including giving refuge and support to our immigrants who are seeking sanctuary while they wait for their lawyers to contest their deportation orders.

James Reeb Unitarian Universalist Congregation

“It really has to do with this founding mission of this church,” she adds. “Very regularly, people will come in to visit and they will say, ‘Oh, I came in because of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ or ‘Immigrants are welcome here’ signs on our windows and they wanted to see what a church was like that had that would be all about.”

“Working towards justice and equity is a very active part of our mission and vision and who we are. It’s in our DNA,” adds Armina, who has been with JRUUC for four years. “We see our building as part of that. It’s open to everybody. We have supported various organizations who have needed meeting space who might not have a lot of money like Young Gifted and Black, Freedom Inc. and Groundwork. People working towards justice in various ways.”

And now, JRUUC is one of four sites preparing to offer sanctuary in Madison. JRUUC’s renovation goal will hopefully get enough moeny for construction to turn part of its multi-purpose room into a private guest bedroom, to enlarge the gender-neutral bathroom and install a shower there, and to meet city building codes.

It’s a 60-day campaign and there are about 49 days left. So far, almost $6,000 has been pledged.

“If we don’t make the $10,000, we don’t get anything! So there is some pressure in this,” Armina says. “We really need to push to get this done.”