When you knock at my front door and are welcomed in, you never know what room you will walk into. Some days, (hopefully most days), it’s a living room, with couches that are free of clutter so that they actually function as a seat. But once a week it turns into a laundry room, where all the clean clothes are deposited waiting to be folded into tidy piles before (again hopefully) being put away. A few weeks ago it was a staging area, as we amassed all the decorations, linens, china, lighting, even dresses needed for our daughter’s big 18th birthday party. Recently, it was a bedroom for a week, as our king-sized bed frame had collapsed, and Robert was rebuilding it. (We will not mention the times when it is the junk room-you know, where everything that has no place of its own is scattered.) I often have twinges, as I open my front door, and find myself apologizing either mentally or verbally, for whatever state the living room is in. But I long ago decided that I’d much rather have people come in and be welcomed whenever they show up, rather than have to wait until my living room looks good enough to my eyes to feel absolutely comfortable.
When we open the door to worship, we likewise welcome people to a multi-purpose room. We call our biggest and best room a “sanctuary,” which invokes a sacred space for worship of the holy God. The primary function of our most important room at ABC is for worship. So when we think of how to arrange and decorate it, it’s worship we have in mind first and foremost.
But worship is not the only function of the sanctuary. I recently read of a church that calls its sanctuary the “living room.” We really could too. We welcome visitors in, we get to know each other better. Every time we share during prayer time, we are really conversing, living-room style.
Every communion Sunday, we turn our sanctuary into a dining room, where we share the Lord’s meal together. I’ve always thought of the sanctuary as a supply closet or pantry. We come to be nourished, to be filled with every spiritual blessing, for the purpose of leaving “home” after the service and sharing those blessings with others. We could think of it as the sick room, where people come to rest and be healed.
As differing needs collide, we naturally feel some twinges about the use of our sacred space. When that happens, I usually find that we are holding together opposing values, and that creates some tension. For example, I have heard of some churches that do not allow children in the sanctuary during the worship service. Parents are very strongly encouraged to leave their children in a different room with age-appropriate activities and proper supervision. Some ABCers who visit other churches have reported that this seems odd to them.
I know the solid reasoning behind this practice. Adults who worship need silence, focus, a minimum of distraction in order to bring ourselves into God’s presence. It’s hard enough quieting our own rampaging thoughts, without the added distraction of a restless little body and a chattering little tongue. But at ABC we value not only worship, but also the togetherness of the body of Christ. We value bringing our little ones to Jesus and knowing that he welcomes them-where will they learn this but in a church that welcomes them? We value the significant blessing that loving adults can be to children. One of the major factors that negatively impacts at-risk youth is that they do not have any positive adult input outside their family (and sometimes not even within their families). And where in our society these days can youth receive that? One of the last natural places of connections other than sports is the church, so I love seeing our kids and teens interact across generations.
I welcome the tension caused by differing values when it comes to our sanctuary. Our sacred space is designed for worship and for so much more! If we bump elbows, it means we are using the space God gave us creatively, and hopefully we can meet the needs of everyone who knocks on our door. Above all, it is my prayer that anyone who walks into our sanctuary will feel a big “Akwaaba!” (That’s “welcome” in the Twi language, spoken with arms thrown wide open.)
So consider this your own personal invitation: Come on in! This space is for your personal use! This room is to be used in a way that you need. Connect to your God. Connect to others. Welcome to the sanctuary.
–Pastor Connie Larson Devaughn