Written by Steven Liechty
Rev. Kathryn Matthews Huey
An important lesson I learned as a brand new associate pastor wasn't something I read in a book or heard in a classroom lecture. In the early quiet of each Sunday morning, I would tag along as my senior pastor, Dr. Laurinda Hafner, toured our church's magnificent sanctuary, like a pilot walking around a plane for one last check before take-off.
Our church had members who faithfully straightened up the pews each week, but Laurie would walk up and down the aisles and through the pews one last time before worship, making sure that everything was just right and that nothing had escaped attention. "I want everyone who comes to church today to feel like we thought about them and prepared for them, just as I would if they were coming into my home," she would say. "It makes a difference when we set the table with love and care."
Today, every time I straighten chairs and replace hymnals and prepare the table for worship in the beautiful Amistad Chapel, I hear Laurie's voice, laying out a vision of sanctuary as warm hospitality offered with love and care.
On Saturday, at Cleveland's Gay Pride festival, I could hear other, surprising voices: they didn't know, we kept hearing, that there really was a church that would welcome them. And I could hear my colleague, Jan Gomoll, as she eloquently shared with each visitor, again and again, the bold witness and extravagant hospitality of the United Church of Christ.
It felt like Jan was offering them a refuge from an often hostile world. Sanctuary: if you get inside, you're safe here from whatever is coming after you. You can be yourself here, your true self, and be accepted, included, loved.
Of course, we think of sanctuary as a holy place, a sacred space where we encounter The Holy, where we are fed spiritually and, we hope, equipped to go out in the world and be, if you will, a mobile sanctuary that bears God's love and care to a beautiful but wounded world. Even if someone never walks into a church sanctuary built with bricks and stone, they can still encounter grace and healing and joy when we shine with the image of God, when we share God's love wherever we are.
What better way to think of holiness than warm welcome, safe refuge, loving acceptance and deep prayer, all of which forms us and feeds us and prepares us to be a sanctuary out there, in this world that God loves so well? I've learned a lesson, and it really is that simple.
Sparking Ministry Conversations
How do you think of sanctuary? Are we equipping the saints to be "mobile sanctuaries" in God's world?
The Rev. Kathryn Matthews Huey, Dean of the Amistad Chapel, is grateful for many invaluable lessons learned at Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Cleveland.