Sanctuary…

be still and know that I am God

Anne Burghgraef-Roques

 

On the second Sunday each month a small group meets for Sanctuary in a large Victorian church in Bath, England. Within this traditional place, the space is used in diverse and aesthetically sensitive ways to create fresh contexts to worship God. It is a place for reflection and meditation. Through liturgy and images, music and art, words and silence, prayer and symbolic acts, participants are encouraged to worship God in a way that resonates meaningfully with their experience.

Amid the noise of our information culture, Sanctuary provides an opportunity for cleansing, renewing and reconnecting - reconnecting with God, our neighbors, our planet and ourselves. Underlying the whole of Sanctuary is the conviction that the whole of life is sacred and significant to God. Each human life is lived out Coram Deo, before the face of God. Therefore all the fragments of our lives need to absorb and be enfolded by the light of the gospel.

Services are themed, so that worshippers can concentrate upon specific issues. Themes have included such things as work, the discovery and use of gifts, being a community and forgiveness. At the UK Greenbelt Christian Arts Festival 2000, Sanctuary conducted two late night services in the ‘alternative’ worship venue. One service focused upon opening up our image of Christ by displaying five original art works including painting, sculpture and photography. Worshippers were given space to meditate on their own and then to share their reflections about a particular piece in a small group.

The second service entitled "Coming Home" was set up as four rooms of a house with a series of realistic installations. In each room there were liturgies to reflect upon and activities to interact with. Participants were invited to make a family prayer tree in the living room, to take home a recipe from the kitchen to share with a friend, to write confessions on the back of a patchwork quilt and to partake of bread and wine by candlelight in the dining room. As Steve Collins commented in his Ship of Fools review, "Sanctuary presented domestic settings as places of encounter with God, and the details of everyday life as sites of spiritual meaning. The implication is that God is omnipresent, if only we could see straight; that church could be a place that helps us to adjust our focus."

When asked why they began Sanctuary, Jon, Clare, Sonia & Iain, the founders, explained that they had become increasingly frustrated with church as it didn’t connect with their experience of the world and their concerns. They were aware of other people who also didn’t feel at home in church and struggled with it including those who had stopped going altogether. Thus Sanctuary began at Easter 1999 because they, "wanted to be part of a community, to worship God with others, not just on our own, but to be able to worship God, explore God, learn about God in a way that was ‘us’".

Sanctuary was not set up as an alternative to church but was designed to be for those on the edge and for those who needed space and a safe place to find God and think about how to engage with life. It has become increasingly apparent that for many Sanctuary is church. The reasons given for that are varied. For some church is an alien culture and disconnected from the world that they inhabit. For others traditional church is a passive experience with few opportunities to interact in a way that is meaningful to them. Others have found the abstract language irrelevant and want to be fully engaged as bodily creatures in worship. For many ‘church’ simply fails to address the critical issues that face individuals, communities and the surrounding culture. Thus for most of the regular punters, Sanctuary has become their spiritual home, the part of the body of Christ that they identify with and feel nourished by.

When asked whether Sanctuary was part of the growing ‘alternative ‘ worship scene in Britain, it was clear that the Sanctuary organisers did identify with it in the sense that they were outside of ‘mainstream’ church however they suspected that in some respects they may be different. In common with other alternative worship groups there is a stretching beyond their evangelical roots to using interesting and liberating ways of communicating and expressing themselves. There is a shared openness to exploring the use of various media and developing imaginative and more interactive ways of worshipping God. What is fundamental and perhaps unique to Sanctuary is the underlying belief that Christ entered into the world so that all things including church might be redeemed. Thus Sanctuary sees it self as a group of people who are saying that the whole universe in all its diversity belongs to God and that they want their worship and their lives to reflect that. Their desire is to use their gifts, abilities and resources to work for the redemption of the whole creation and to encourage others to do so too.

Along Sanctuary’s journey, there has been much to celebrate. There is a growing communal commitment and involvement in Sanctuary. It has been an encouragement to know that Sanctuary has helped to sustain and nurture faith in God particularly for those who have been disaffected in some way from mainstream church. Amidst the joys of worshipping in a creative and meaningful way, several challenges remain. As Sanctuary has become ‘church’ for many of the regulars, the need for more Biblical input and discussion along with pastoral support and mutual accountability has become apparent. The biggest challenge of all is how to relate to the established church, especially the Church of England as it provides the venue for Sanctuary. As Sanctuary desires to work respectfully together with mainstream churches, yet retain its freedom to develop, the challenge remains as to how to be in the Church but not of the church.

For more information, visit: www.trinity-bris.ac.uk/altw_faq

 

 

The Big Picture Volume 2 Advent 2000 p.20