Written by Vince Amlin
"…The enemy has destroyed everything in the sanctuary….With hatchets and hammers, they smashed all its carved work. They set your sanctuary on fire; they desecrated the dwelling place of your name, bringing it to the ground." - Psalm 74:3b, 6-7
Psalm 74 is an altar guild’s nightmare. Pews busted into kindling. Paraments shredded. Organ smoldering.
The carnage reminds me of a Mennonite church where I interned one summer. The congregation occupied a corner storefront in a rougher neighborhood in Chicago.
A couple weeks after I started, I came into worship to find one of the large plate-glass windows in the sanctuary boarded up. Someone had thrown a rock through it.
The congregation took it in stride. A little plywood and duct tape, a call for repair, and it was good as new.
Then, a week later, another rock.
I got upset. This was the room where the VBS gathered to sing songs and play games; the room where neighborhood kids flooded empty-handed into the weekly potluck (and the intern was sent out for pizzas). This was the room where we worshipped God! Sacred space. Holy ground.
But no one seemed to share my indignation.
Then I remembered how the congregation had come to worship in that place. Ten years before, a small group had gathered to pray at that intersection after a drive-by shooting. And they prayed there every week until the building came up for sale.
Their sacred space had not been violated by the troubled neighborhood as I assumed. They had claimed that space as sacred because it was troubled. They had eyes to see holy ground shining through the brokenness.
Thank you for those who hear your voice in the sound of gunshots and find your image in broken glass.
Vince Amlin is Associate Minister at the United Church of Gainesville, Gainesville, Florida.