Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Keeping It Holy

In my tenure as a pastor, I have never been called to lead in the building of a new sanctuary. It's hard to imagine how one leads in such a sacred endeavor. Congregations that build sanctuaries are called to take into account honoring worship traditions of the past while constructing a space that is flexible enough to accommodate worship practices of the present and future. Building team leaders must also listen carefully to the voices of the stakeholders (current and potential worshippers) and be mindful that the worship space intentionally welcomes God's Spirit to move among God's people.

When I moved to Dundee United Methodist Church in 1995, the congregation had just moved into a brand new sanctuary. The old sanctuary, which had doubled as a fellowship hall, had shifted in purpose. There were not enough Sunday school classrooms, a children and youth were meeting in open areas in the hall.

Brighton First's Community Room and Chapel occupy
space that was once the Sanctuary and Chancel
Brighton First United Methodist moved into a newly built sanctuary in 1995. Like Dundee, the congregation was left to repurpose the older sanctuary. When I came to serve at the church in 2002, the sanctuary did not have pews or chancel furnishings, but in other ways was much the same as it had been when the congregation used it for worship.

When a space in a church, especially a sanctuary is no longer used for regular worship, can it be repurposed? More importantly, does a space dedicated to the praise of God ever lose sacred purpose?

I know that churches have closed, been purchased and used for multiple purposes from homes to restaurants, from business offices to secular wedding chapels. I recently visited a closed Free Methodist Church to pick up some donated Bibles. Plans are to turn the church into a convenience store. In these cases, congregations have given thanks to God for the ministry of their church and let go of it as sacred space.

When the former sanctuary still exists, within the structure of an active church, it continues to be a place that hold memories of the sacred, God's faithful gathered in praise and worship.

I like to think that a space, still used by a church, even when no longer a sanctuary is a sacred place, blessed by the people and ministries that happen within its walls. Today in the churches that I have served, re-purposed sanctuaries are used as gathering places for fellowship and teaching. They serve as "parlors" for families to greet people after the death of a loved one. The life of these churches spills out from the present sanctuaries into a sacred space of welcome and growing in faith.

What part of a church campus is not sacred if dedicated to making disciples for Jesus Christ? What part of a church building is not part of bringing the reign of Christ to this world? Today I am "walking softly" through Brighton First's Community Room and Chapel (our former sanctuary) and giving thanks for transformed lives.

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