Second Congregational Church in Newcastle anchors support for Portland asylum seekers

Wed, 08/07/2019 - 10:15am

One consistent theme of human history is of people, facing huge odds, going on the move for a better life. Recent events have brought a stark example of this phenomena with a local connection. 

Second Congregational Church of Newcastle, UCC is now leading in the effort to provide tangible help to some 400 African asylum seekers coming to Portland, Maine in recent months. The newcomers hope to settle permanently in Maine, become U.S. citizens, and become hard-working participants in Maine’s economy and culture.

The effort is bringing together a broad coalition of local churches, groups, and individuals, guided by Rev. Char Corbett, pastor at the Second Congregational Church, UCC in Newcastle.

On June 20, nearly 50 people turned out at The Second Congregational Church to explore how Lincoln County residents can help Portland deal with the recent influx of asylum-seekers into the city. June 20, coincidentally, is World Refugee Day.

Pastor Corbett facilitated the meeting after receiving calls and emails from church members asking what they could do to help Portland when approximately 87 new asylum-seeking families arrived in the city after surviving a harrowing trip to reach the southern U.S. border. Border agents there met many of them as they crossed the Rio Grand River. They were then processed and released with a notice to appear in immigration court and allowed to continue on to their final designation. Asylum seekers have a year from their arrival to apply for asylum. 

Maine is one of the few states that grants certain non-citizens access to public benefits in the form of General Assistance, a safety net program providing vouchers for basic necessities including housing and food.

Asylum seekers have already begun relocating from the Portland Expo to Portland’s Family Shelter, and permanent or temporary facilities in Brunswick, Lewiston, and elsewhere. Portland organizers worry they will not find enough host families by the time the Expo is closed on August 15 to begin the Maine Red Claws basketball season.

As a result of the Second Congregational Church’s initiative to help Portland with the immigrant influx, as well as queries from other UCC churches around Maine, the Maine Conference of the United Church of Christ (UCC), has designated Newcastle’s Second Congregational Church as an “anchor and inspiring church.” The church joins an ecumenical and interfaith coalition making a statement about the power of people of faith to be compassionate and effective in the face of such a need. 

At the group’s Aug. 1 meeting, about two dozen attendees learned of other efforts around the state and beyond, including the results of various regional fundraising events in support of the asylum seekers. On Aug. 17 and 24, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. asylum seeker fundraisers will staff a table in front of Sherman’s Maine Coast Book Shop on Main Street. Meanwhile, the church’s fellowship room was chock-block full of donations of clothing and other needs being sorted by volunteers before transport to Portland.

The meeting concluded with news of a Solidarity Walk to the ICE (Imigation and Customs Enforcement) Detention Center at the Stafford County Jail in Dover, New Hampshire on Aug. 24. Information on that event (including required registration) can be found at

For more information on how you can help the asylum seekers, call the church at 563-3379.