LODI -- Saint Paul Lutheran Church in Lodi has long been a place of worship and now it's also a sanctuary for immigrants and refugees.
“God loves everyone and the church is called to love everybody,” said Rev. Nelson Rabell-Gonzalez.
Rabell-Gonzalez has been the associate pastor and Spanish minister at Saint Paul for nearly a year and a half and said the church is taking a stand on immigration.
“Our commitment to refugees and to immigrants arises from our history, from the scriptures,” he told FOX40. “And, most importantly, because we see the value of every human being, regardless of their documentation status, regardless of their immigration status.”
This week the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which represents more than 3.5 million Lutherans, declared themselves a sanctuary denomination.
“We're encouraged to treat the migrants, the alien residents among us, with dignity, with love and respect,” Rabell-Gonzalez said.
The parking lot was full Sunday morning for the first service since the sanctuary declaration came down from their governing body.
“It means that we're going to be advocates for the migrant community, that we’re going to support them,” Rabell-Gonzalez explained. “We're going to work with them, we're going to protect their children, we're going to protect them.”
People who are in the country illegally will now be able to seek temporary shelter inside the church during Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids.
Saint Paul will also continue to offer legal help to members looking to become legal residents and U.S. citizens and connect people to resources and information.
Some people opposed the move by the church saying it should not help people break the law.
Rabell-Gonzalez said they answer to a higher power.
“We have to remember that segregation was lawful and we, the church, stood against it. Dr. King stood against it. Apartheid in South Africa was legal but the churches and groups of people stood against it,” he said. “Now, we have policies that they're lawful because they're the law of the land but they're not moral. WE have to stand against them.”
He said he doesn't see it as a political issue but as a matter of faith.