Cathedral Church of St. Luke in Portland. Credit: CBS 13 | WGME

A Portland Church opened its doors on Christmas Day to dozens of newly arrived asylum seekers, mostly from the African countries of Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“It ties perfectly in with the Christmas story of Mary and Joseph, and there’s no room at the inn,” the Rev. Benjamin Shambaugh said. “But we have room.”

Shambaugh is dean at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke, seat of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine. He said Portland’s new mayor, Kate Snyder, contacted the church after an influx of more than 150 asylum seekers arrived in the city in the past month.

They filled overnight emergency shelters to capacity. But while the new arrivals have been sheltered and fed overnight, the city has struggled to find daytime space for as many as 40 of them.

Shambaugh said that volunteers quickly stepped up to provide staffing needed to provide warm daytime quarters for them in the church.

“The idea that Mary, Joseph and Jesus became refugees themselves helps us live in the story also,” Shambaugh said. “So the idea [is] that when we meet or welcome a refugee, we’re welcoming Jesus himself.”

The church opened for the recent immigrants starting at 8 a.m. on Christmas Day. Shambaugh said the goal is to provide them daytime shelter until they find permanent housing.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.