“Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them,
whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn truth.” –Hermann Hesse
This past Sunday we gathered in the sanctuary of ‘our’ backyard at the parsonage for worship and a moving conversation about Sanctuary as our new name. As I have already shared with some of you, during my time in Atlanta at the National Church Leadership Institute with brilliant, progressive church leaders and teachers like Cameron Trimble, Mike Piazza, Lisa Anderson, Doug Pagitt, Brian McLaren (colleague crush!!), and all of my brave MACUCC-new-church-start mates – my spirit settled into a clear-eyed awareness of our new ministry as being about sanctuary. Informed by church renewal wisdom that encourages “Slow Church*”, “craft church**” and small groups as well as the vision and values we have already agreed are being called forth by God for our future – the image of us ‘being sanctuary’ just made so much sense.
One might say, “Duh! Of course it does, Wendy!” The word sanctuary is that which we have applied to spaces and places of worship forever. The Latin root sanct means holy. A sanctum is a private place. To sanctify means to make holy. A sanctuary is a place of protection. Yet as we take leave of the 100 year old sanctuary that was built–stone by stone and made holy–prayer by prayer by our foremothers and forefathers in the faith community known as the Congregational Church of West Medford; as we free ourselves from the weight of the beautiful, sacred space from which those good folk voted to become members of the United Church of Christ and voted to become Open and Affirming and called many a pastor who preached many a sermon (eek, how many sermons have been preached in that sanctuary?); as we follow Jesus out into the light-ness of this ministry-in-the-square with the resources and courage to do a new (old) thing we are not going to have a sanctuary as much as we will be a sanctuary. One author writes:
Congregations need to awaken to the full meaning of sanctuary: a place marked by the presence of the Holy One, who always speaks for the widow and orphan and who says to the children, Come to me. They need to reclaim sanctuary as a safe place where everyone is covered by the promise of God’s providence, where the One who called the slaves out of Egypt again parts the Red Sea and where impossible acts of protection and provision may still be expected. …
Our churches must become safehouses in the midst of the domestic wars that rage in our neighborhoods, claiming so many children as victims. They must open themselves to the fullest meaning of Holy Place — not simply centers set aside or exclusive, but pure and life-giving centers of human community, oases of shalom where those who thirst may come and be renewed. We need to gather the children in and let them know there is safety in God’s house, in the shadow of the steeple, beneath the bell that rings the weekly invitation to come in and remember God’s worth — the mighty, living God who rescues. Let them come and be saved by the bell. Then sanctuary will be a reality in the world once again. –Charlotte E. Ellison, Perspectives, August-September 1997, quoted in Context, January 1, 1998, 6.
Our conversation this past Sunday was an important one. The group of twenty of us who were gathered this past Sunday ultimately agreed that the name “Sanctuary, UCC” felt like ours. But before that happened, we shared images of how the meaning and idea of Sanctuary spoke to us and our ministry. We prayed over images for sanctuary from the dictionary such as: a sacred or holy place, a place of refuge, safety, haven, harbor, port in a storm, oasis, shelter, retreat, hideaway, asylum, immunity, preserve, protection, shelter, Sabbath, God.
When we shared with each other both the images that resonated with who we feel we are and ideas for ministry engendered from the call to be sanctuary here is what we named: being a port-in-the-storm of people’s lives when they are in need; being sanctuary from brokenness and busyness; being a quiet, warm, beautiful, comfortable, serene, joyful gathering place; connecting people, providing commuters comfort; giving commuters a place to give care; a place through which people can find meaning and purpose; respite; spiritual rehab that forms faith; a safe place for questions; a place where you can share without judgment; recovery; studying our faith and scriptures; a place that is “open”; a home that is “unlocked”, retreat for onsite refreshment which then inspires action; connection that engenders action which affirms the soul through which faith is formed; receiving peace of the mind and spirit; a place of peace; a getaway with comfort and relaxation; being the gospel which leads to action for “world peace”, justice and change; Sabbath as a sanctuary for time; a place to share a tear; a place where we have real relationships; a canopy of trees; surrounded with safety; lapping water on a pier of strength; a place that sits above the turmoil of life/world; a place that reflects the values that Jesus taught (and answers the question “What would Jesus Do?).
We also agreed that while the simplicity of “Sanctuary, UCC” would be great for the sign above the door and a Website URL, it would be important to claim some words after the colon, words that would flesh out what we mean when we claim the name. Here are a couple of ideas:
Be Love, Do Justice, Have Peace with Sanctuary, UCC
(or) Sanctuary, UCC: Be Love, Do Justice, Have Peace
Sanctuary, UCC: Discover the Spirit of Faith, Hope and Love
Sanctuary, UCC: Open and Affirming of You
Sanctuary, UCC: Being Love and Justice Wherever You Are
Sanctuary, UCC: Safe Space that Forms Faith
Sanctuary, UCC: ???
So, what are your ideas? How do you feel called out of our sanctuary to be sanctuary for all? Join in the conversation and be with us on September 14 immediately after worship in our sanctuary at 400 High Street for a Congregational Meeting of the Governing Body to vote on the use of ‘Sanctuary, UCC’ as the name by which we will be known even as we say goodbye to the building that has been our sanctuary and take the bold risk to leave her behind to be sanctuary in the square and in the world.
With blessing and prayer and the spirit of peace in my heart,
Rev. Wendy Miller Olapade
*”Slow Church is a call for intentionality, an awareness of our mutual interdependence with all people and all creation, and an attentiveness to the world around us and the work God is doing in our very own neighborhoods. Our goal for the Slow Church book and blog is to help inaugurate what we hope is a broad and long and even slow conversation on these topics.”—slowchurch.com
**Craft Church is a parable that Mike Piazza takes from the beer industry: Main stream beer sales is declining, especially among millennial generation. Beer consumption on the other hand is at an all-time high. Millennials are not impressed with name brands and seek options and that which is uniquely suited to their taste, what they are eating, where they are….like we have done for a long time with wine, craft beers have been springing up and taking over the market for a while now. What can we learn about this for church? — video of a workshop on Craft Church from NCLI: