Giving and Receiving Sanctuary

At 3 am on Wednesday, May 25th, a 3 Alarm fire was set outside the sanctuary of First Congregational UCC Vancouver. Fire crews did amazing work to contain the fire to the western end of the sanctuary and also saved the church steeple and cross. The church is insured and will begin the process of rebuilding.

These 56 words may tell the facts of what happened this week, but they don’t tell the whole story of what happened, and they don’t capture the feelings of the many people impacted by the fire.

What remains of our sanctuary and the million dollar renovation we did on this stained glass.

What remains of our sanctuary and the million dollar renovation we did on this stained glass.

And they certainly don’t answer the question a 4 year-old boy asked me, “But why, Miss Kristina, did somebody do this to us?”

When he asked me that, I did the only thing I could think of…I knelt down, held his tiny hand and said, “I don’t know. But I do know we will be okay.”

I’ve fielded many questions as best I could since I first arrived at the church Wednesday at 6 am looking like a person does when they are awoken to the news that their church and place of employment is on fire. (It’s not my best look, to say the least.)

Most of the time I give the same answer to the 44 and 84 year olds as I do for the 4 year olds.

“I don’t know…but we will be okay.”

But the truth is, okay is also going to be different. The space will never be the same, and the people who regularly use this space will change.

This particular sanctuary, and the sanctuary our whole church and building provides has been a sanctuary in our community for 125 years. It wasn’t just the congregants and holiday worshippers of First Congregational UCC Vancouver who are impacted by the fire. We offer meeting space and office space to many organizations in SW Washington. And we are all homeless and adrift right now.

Weight Watchers, Sierra Club, Martha’s Pantry, MCC of The Gentle Shepherd, Vancouver USA Singers, AA Fireside, the Samoan Adventists, Clark County Music Teachers Association, 6 Rivers Mediation, a disabled young man who works in our building as part of his occupational therapy, and two homeless people/families who shelter on our property are a handful of the groups and folks who no longer have a sanctuary.

Some of those organizations have lost everything. Some have lost only scheduled events and meetings. All will need to find new homes.

All around the world there are people who are homeless and adrift, looking for a place to settle down and settle in. They are looking for their sanctuary in which to take shelter from life’s storms. Up until Wednesday, First Congregational UCC Vancouver was happy to say, “Come, you are welcome here. Sit awhile and know that there is always room at our table.”

Today we have to say, “Come, you are welcome to take sanctuary here…under this tent. Sit awhile on this rented plastic chair. There’s plenty of room for all of us if we sit close enough together.”

We’ve always been more than a building giving sanctuary, but for right now we can’t be that. Instead, we have to be a living sanctuary for one another as we get through this day and the next and all the days after. Together…

Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary
Pure and holy, tried and true
With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living
Sanctuary for You

Tested by fire, the cross remains, symbolizing our commitment to peace and justice for all.

Tested by fire, the cross remains, symbolizing our commitment to peace and justice for all.

13 thoughts on “Giving and Receiving Sanctuary

  1. your thoughts and insights always are presented with consideration and heartfelt humanity. The building, while important, is just a structure but it’s the heart of the congregation that is the true testament to God’s work in providing for others. The recovery won’t be quick or easy but with God’s grace it will build a strength and love that has no boundaries.

    • Thank you for your sweet comment. I do believe we will be able to continue to do the work we believe is important. I just wish there weren’t so many folks hurting now.

    • I agree Ellen. Hatred helps no one. I have to hope that good comes from this but honestly, it will be a long and hard road ahead. There is so much anger and hatred festering out there these days…may it find a way to be appeased before we are all consumed. Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment.

  2. Very sorry to hear this news, Kristina. Don’t know what else to say but Hugs and prayers for all concerned.

  3. I am sorry for your loss. Even though I have wandered in my spirituality quite a bit, my empathetic heart feels your pain as your spiritual home is destroyed. Today I lost a very expensive item that was a loaner. Growing up, my mom always taught me to pray to St. Anthony if I lost something. And so in my 40 minutes of freak out, in between tears I prayed hard to St. Anthony. My “home memory” worked and I found the item. May seem trivial example of comparison, but losing this would have caused quite a predicament and in my moment of panic — I remembered something that might help. .

    During this journey, while troubling and long, I hope you can find moments of grace, gratitude and humbling calm. ❤ And if you feel lost, a prayer to St. Anthony may help.

  4. Thanks for writing this wonderful piece, Kristina! I shared it with some of the staff at the UCC headquarters. Lots of heartfelt prayers and thoughts coming from downtown Cleveland.

    • Thank you, Brooks. These are hard days at the church, as you might imagine. But I have to believe that the congregation will not only weather this but will be stronger for it. And it is wonderful to receive so many words of kindness from the community, conference, and national church. Thank you.

  5. Beautiful reflection, Kristina. I have been holding you all in my prayers.

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