Excerpt from Genesis 28:10-17
"Surely the Lord is in this place - and I did not know it!" And he was afraid, and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven."
Martin B. Copenhaver
Protestants often pooh-pooh the whole notion of holy places. Other religions, and other traditions within Christianity, have shrines and temples where God's presence is thought to be patently manifest. By contrast, Protestants usually are more comfortable affirming that God can be encountered anywhere, rather than in any particular place.
But I think most Protestants have more of a sense of holy place than we usually let on. For instance, one such place for me is James Chapel at Union Seminary in New York. When I visited there, I felt like I should take my shoes off before treading on such holy ground. My senses were on alert, trying to take it all in. When I got home, I could barely tell the story of my visit to James Chapel without tearing up. You see, my parents met at Union and they were married in the chapel in 1941.
The high, carved Gothic pews are no longer there, as they are in the photographs of my parents on their wedding day. Today James Chapel looks more like a black box theater. But, to me, it is still a holy place because holy things happened there. Often, when I meet a Union graduate, I tell them about how James Chapel is a holy place for me.
Then last summer I visited my brother, who has been sorting through old family photos, including one of my parents on their wedding day. I was about to tell him about my pilgrimage to James Chapel when I noticed, at the bottom of the photo, this inscription in my mother's handwriting: "First Methodist Church, Albion, Michigan." (My mother was from Albion.)
It turns out that for decades I simply had the story wrong and my parents, who died years ago, were not around to set me straight.
But when I next visit Union Seminary, I will step into James Chapel, and it will still seem like a holy place. A holy place is where holy things happened. Or, at least, where holy things are remembered, sometimes with tears, and other times with laughter.
God bless all the holy places in my life.
Martin B. Copenhaver is Senior Pastor, Wellesley Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Wellesley, Massachusetts. He is the author, with Lillian Daniel, of This Odd and Wondrous Calling: the Public and Private Lives of Two Ministers.