noun: sanctuary: a place of refuge or safety.
From this simple definition one could infer that a sanctuary is a place to hide…in isolation. We, like our Christian cousins, call our meeting room a sanctuary. In the old days the builders of churches included stained glass as a way to create a sanctuary filled with the light of God. Many UUs don’t think of our sanctuaries as places of God, but as places made holy by the gathering of our community. This is what I believe.
I was lost, hurt, and alone in my tumultuous sixteenth year of life, and for a relatively short time I lived with my grandmother. Grandma Katherine worked a lot, and I hardly saw her. But every week we would get in her old Ford pickup and make a 30 mile grocery run. There was not a lot of money, so we mostly came back with beans, pork neck bones and lunch meat, which was usually the cheapest bologna on sale. But grandma, even though she was an insulin-dependent diabetic, loved Klondike Bars. She would get just one package of six ice cream bars and eat one a day until the next store trip.
One day I came into her room while she was eating one to ask her the simple question: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Now, I do not remember what her response was. But I do remember her immediately getting up and going to the fridge to get me a Klondike Bar. I also remember that we talked long after the ice cream was finished about many things, including life, death, love, loss, hopes, and dreams. I remember feeling that I could talk to Grandma about anything, and she would still love me and accept me. I also remember that next week at the store she bought two packages of Klondike Bars, and following that, we spent at least one day a week on her bed enjoying our treats and talking. She inspired me, she encouraged me, she made me think things could get better. During that brief time I was in a kind of sanctuary – a home where I was loved and supported.
Somewhere, there are people to whom we can speak with passion
without having the words catch in our throats.
Somewhere a circle of hands will open to receive us, eyes will light up as we enter,
voices will celebrate with us whenever we come into our own power.
Community means strength
that joins our strength to do the work that needs to be done.
Arms to hold us when we falter.
A circle of healing.
A circle of friends.
Someplace where we can be free.
I truly believe our church is becoming a sanctuary. I’m not just talking about the place where we gather to worship. I’m talking about how we are when we are together in that place, or anywhere we gather. We are inspired by the sermons, the music, and the readings. But we are also inspired by the people in our congregation doing justice work, the ones teaching our children in their RE classes, the ones teaching OWL, and those leading adult groups.
We are encouraged when we see each other doing the work, and even more so when we hear them talk with passion about what they’re doing. We are encouraged when we see it all making a difference even in small ways, leading us to hope to make more radical change in the future.
Sanctuary can be found in a community of people who come together and share openly and honestly with one another. It is found in being with people who share your values, celebrate your joys and successes, and hold you close in your failures and sorrows. Sanctuary is found in the people that you want to share your ideas and your ice-cream with.
In the words we speak,
In the songs we sing,
In the work that we do,
In the being together,
In the knowing that we make a difference in our world,
We are creating a sanctuary.
If you ever want to come by and talk with me about anything, contact me and we’ll set up an appointment. I’ll be sure to have a couple of Klondike Bars waiting.