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.


Racial Justice

Old Cambridge Baptist Church has been involved in racial justice issues from its earliest years, when it supported abolition and welcomed at least one fugitive slave into its congregation. During the 1960s, its racial justice work included a task force on civil rights and a substantial Community Development Fund for “black self-determination.”

More recently, OCBC members formed a Racial Justice Group, which began meeting informally in members’ homes in 2012. Following several months of conversation, reading, and reflection, the group sponsored a series of Sunday adult forums, focusing on white privilege, minority housing and education, mass incarceration, and other issues. In our final session, inspired by a reading of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, we decided to put a major effort into prison

One outcome of that decision has been our involvement with the Jobs Not Jails campaign. We participated in a petition drive and rally organized by that group in 2013, and continue to gather at the State House and contact legislators regarding prison reform legislation supported by Jobs Not

Another outcome has been our involvement with Partakers, a program that connects mentoring teams with incarcerated persons taking courses through the BU program. Our first Partakers team has been meeting with a young man in Norfolk Prison since 2014, and a second team was just formed to mentor another person in the same

The Racial Justice Group has continued to hold one or two series of adult forums each year. Some have been designed to educate us on such topics as the history of slavery in Cambridge and the involvement of the American church in racial justice history; others—such as a recent series based on the book Gather at the Table—invite us to reflect more deeply on our personal and corporate experiences of race and racism.

The adult forums have drawn record numbers of people to the after-church gatherings, and the Racial Justice Group itself has grown so large that it’s no longer possible to meet in people’s homes. Starting this fall, the entire congregation will be involved in a full year of worship, study, reflection, and activism focusing on racial justice, which we are currently calling Dismantling White Supremacy. More information about this exciting year will be coming soon!


LGBTQ Justice

OCBC was most likely the first Baptist church in the country to become welcoming to gay and lesbian people and fully affirming of their lives and place in the church. Since 1983, OCBC has held this stance of welcome and inclusion, working for justice for LGBTQ people inside the church and in wider society. Many LGBTQ people find a spiritual home at OCBC and many of the congregation's pastors over the past three decades have also been lesbian and gay. 

Today, the congregation is active in education surrounding gender identity and seeks active ways of participating in the work for justice for transgender, intersex, and genderqueer people in church and society.

Gender Justice

OCBC upholds practices of gender equity in all aspects of church life and has a lengthy history of engaging in the larger work of gender justice in the church and in the wider world.

In the early 1970s, a group of women who named themselves Sojourners began to meet in the church’s tower room. At a time when the feminist movement was challenging ideas of male leadership and gender based assumptions, this group focused on a radical re-imaging of God and the church. Together, they read feminist theologians and shared life stories. Out of this study and sharing, both individual lives and the life of OCBC were transformed. As theology expanded to imagine a God in whose image all persons were created, new possibilities were unleashed. The language of worship itself was transformed to make it more inclusive of a female and/or gender-neutral deity.

Through liturgical dance and theater, 1974’s “Witch, Virgin, Whore: Breaking the Spell” worship service challenged the congregation to see the oppressive limitations of stereotypical roles for women, and to envision transformation. This re-imagining was not just for women; it would also free men to benefit from realizing the limits of their former roles. “Witch, Virgin, Whore” was performed in other churches and seminaries, and became influential in advancing the movement toward gender equality in the Boston area.

In 1975, at the urging of the Sojourners, OCBC called its first woman pastor, The Rev. Linda Brebner. Several other women from the Sojourners group were inspired to enter professional ministry and became part of the feminist movement in the larger church and beyond. 


As gender equality in the church and the language of worship were implemented, OCBC also grew in our understanding of the importance of welcoming and affirming sexual minorities. The women’s and lesbian liberation movements overlapped in many ways, and a number of women in the church were coming out as lesbians. By their very presence they questioned traditional practices and interpretations of God and of scripture. The feminist movement at OCBC thus opened the door to the process of becoming a congregation welcoming and affirming of LGBTQ people, and to a deeper commitment to justice and inclusion across a broad range of human difference that we continue to explore today.

Climate Justice

Our congregation has affirmed care for the environment as part of our stewardship of Creation since the 1970s, when members first participated in Earth Day celebrations. As climate change has grown to threaten all life, especially the lives of the poor, the marginalized, and communities of color, we have increasingly turned prayer and action toward Climate Justice. As a people who believe that all creation is sacred and interconnected, we are called to prophetic speech and action to stop the destruction of our life-sustaining ecosystem for profit. We are equally called to be agents of healing and compassion in a world where climate catastrophes already stoke conflicts, mass migrations of refugees, and competition for dwindling resources.  Some of the ways we engage in this mission are through:

Prayer and worship

Including ongoing prayers for climate justice, and hosting a climate-focused service to open Harvard Heat Week 2015 with guest preacher Tim DeChristopher

Educating ourselves

  • We host a Climate Justice book group, as well as periodic Adult Forums after worship serices to equip us spiritually and practically for action.
  • Groups of OCBC members have attended films together, such as Merchants of Doubt and This Changes Everything

Reducing our carbon footprints

Activism on behalf of Climate Justice

  • We are exploring possibilities for congregational divestment from fossil fuel companies.  Meanwhile, many of us are divesting our personal savings and participating in the divestment movement (as students and alumni of educational institutions, as members of Baptist organizations, and as contributors to pension funds).

  • Members are also working with

    • American Baptist Creation Care Ministry at regional and national levels
      Massachusetts Interfaith Coalition for Climate Action, through which we demonstrate and lobby with other people of faith for a clean energy future in Massachusetts
    • Better Future Project/350MA, including activism action against new fossil fuel infrastructure, and for fossil fuel divestment and clean energy

American Baptist Policy Statements and Resolution on the environment: