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.

One Step at a Time

On Monday, February 13th, Washington State Governor Christine Gregoir is scheduled to sign into law the Marriage Equality Bill, making Washington the seventh state in the United States to not discriminate between same-sex and hetero-sexual couples. As imagined, there is loud commentary on both sides of this issue. But in the background can be heard the soft steps of a group of individuals marching from Vancouver to Olympia in celebration of Marriage Equality.

On Saturday, my family took part in this march. Littlest, at 5 years of age, was the youngest marcher. I believe his grandfather, at much more than 5 years of age, was the oldest. It doesn’t really matter how old the marchers are, for anyone of any age can be an activist for positive change. And in the case of the Love for All: An Interfaith March for Marriage Equality, the marchers are activists for justice and equality for all persons to marry, regardless of gender.

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