As numbers in Canada began to climb, so did the number of event cancellations. The call was made to cancel the much-anticipated VBS and, by the end of the week, we were also directed to pause in-person worship, effective immediately. The Salvation Army’s sanctuary at 1201 Grand Marais Road West in Windsor, Ont., became one of many across the territory to lock its doors, shut off from the world.
But as the building closed, the church seemed to wake up—we saw the body of Christ spring into action throughout this pandemic. Neighbours started reaching out more to their neighbours, the young and healthy took an active interest in the elderly and sick, and there was a demonstrated desire to care for each other.
As the weeks and months passed, we gave little thought to the physical space that had been closed, because virtual platforms gave us a way to do things differently. While meeting face to face was not an option, the beauty of a phone call had been rediscovered.
Has the church forgotten how to delight in our weaknesses and allow Christ’s power to shine?In the fall, when we were able to open the doors and re-gather for in-person worship for a few months, albeit under strict physical distancing and health and safety protocols, there was a sense of “coming home” that fulfilled a longing for many people. While God is certainly not restricted to the four walls of our buildings, we found something meaningful in a return to the sanctuary.
By definition, “sanctuary” means a place of refuge and safety. The COVID-19 crisis has changed this definition as it relates to the sanctuary of a church building—how many of us would still identify it as a place of safety?
As I have reflected further, I have wondered if our sanctuaries are perceived as places of judgment and criticism, instead of refuge and safety. It can take courage for a newcomer to enter a church. Some may worry about how they will be received once inside the building. What will people say? Will people even take notice of them? Some carry wounds from previous, unwelcoming experiences.
Even for those who have attended church for years, there is sometimes a fear of what others are thinking. I remember a time when the mercy seat was quite often filled with people longing for a closer walk with God. It is not uncommon for the mercy seat in today’s church to rarely receive a visit. The need for God has not changed, but the fear of how others will judge the walk to the mercy seat has grown.
In 2 Corinthians 12:9-11, Paul declares, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Has the church forgotten how to delight in our weaknesses and allow Christ’s power to shine? While Jesus demonstrates an open invitation to come to him, it seems as though a level of courage is needed to publicly accept that invitation today. If one has to enter the sanctuary guarded, how can refuge truly be experienced?
I am challenged to consider the kind of sanctuary God longs to offer a hurting and broken world. I seek forgiveness if I have played a role in compromising the sanctuary and commit to the endeavour of re-establishing it as a place of refuge and safety. When our physical sanctuaries are deemed “safe” once again, let’s make sure that everyone venturing into that space will experience the shelter of God’s community.
Captain Laura Hickman is the corps officer at South Windsor Corps, Ont.
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