Our Temporary Sanctuary
by Pastor George Van Alstine

I just stumbled on an interesting remnant from ABC’s past – a rather slick (for its time) 8-page, 8 1/2×11 brochure describing the plans for building the structure we now call our church home.* The year was 1958. To that point, worship services, Sunday School and youth activities were all being done in the old wooden church structure on the corner, which was first built by the Methodists in the early 1920s and was purchased by the Baptists in 1934.

The artist’s drawing was beautiful, envisioning very much what we see today, aside from the bell tower and the front landscaping. However, off to the left, where the old church stood, he sketched the shadowy outlines of a larger building, which was dreamed to be the second stage of the building project. This would be the majestic worship center of the future, as the church certainly would continue to grow. In the brochure’s depiction of the floor plan, the area in which we now worship is clearly labeled “Temporary Sanctuary,” so that no one would question that the larger building, the real church was soon to come. The cornerstone on our building is inscribed with this text: “Train up a child in the way he should go” (from Proverbs 22:6), emphasizing the fact that this structure was intended ultimately to be the Christian Education annex.

Well, fifty-four years have gone by, and we’re still worshiping in the “Temporary Sanctuary.” Where the artist drew the outlines of a larger building, we now enjoy a broad, open lawn.

Should we feel bad about this — that ABC has never grown as large as its people in the 1950s thought it would? I don’t think so. I believe the congregation’s DNA and the residential nature of the community predestined it to be a neighborhood church that focuses on families and whole-person spiritual nurture. We’ve witnessed the blossoming of a few mega-churches in the Pasadena area, partly at the expense of smaller churches that couldn’t keep up with the changes required for ministry in the 21st century. ABC has chosen a kind of middle way, managing to maintain its momentum without expensive expansion projects, while constantly adapting to address the needs around us. Meanwhile, the fact that we’re mortgage-free, not struggling to pay a heavy debt for that dream building next door, has allowed us to direct a larger percentage of our tithes and offerings into outreach, youth programs and world missions.

Also, I really like the idea that we worship in a “Temporary Sanctuary.” It’s Biblical. The author of Hebrews goes to great lengths to remind us that religion here on earth, even at its highest expression, is only a faint outline of the true worship of God in heaven. He says that the pattern of Jewish worship established by Moses under God’s inspiration was only “a shadow of the good things that are coming, not the realities themselves” (Hebrews 10:1). Even the magnificent Temple in Jerusalem, built in the time of King David, was “a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven” (8:5). Father Abraham, the great ancestor of Moses and David, lived in tents to symbolize that “he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (11:10).

So, maybe we should put a “Temporary Sanctuary” sign over the entrance to our worship center. This might help us remember that we should always be traveling light through our earthly journey.

* I also found a file of the bids from construction companies. The winning bid was $88,500, which is a little less than we have spent to date on the current Lift / Bathroom Remodel Project.