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Chancel Visioning Team

What does "sanctuary" mean to our each of us? Wikipedia says, "Sanctuary is a word derived from the Latin sanctuarium, which is, like most words ending in -arium, a container for keeping something in-in this case holy things or perhaps cherished people (sanctae/sancti)." The Israelites carried their sacred space with them as they wandered in the desert. Old and New Testament peoples have continued to seek, protect, and build holy places for millennia. But what does our sanctuary mean for you, for us as First Presbyterian Church of Valparaiso?

Why ask now, in the season of COVID-19? In the quiet of night I've been remembering times in a sanctuary when I personally felt the presence of God - a sense of holiness in that space. Is that true for you?

  • The congregation with vigorous voices united in worshiping God together with resounding organ... singing "Is it I, Lord?" On another day, singing, "For All the Saints..." Or another day meditating upon "Amazing Grace..."

  • Prayerful conversations in sacred space, sometimes without words. Words of a sermon that reach deep into memories and images of God's presence in lived life in the midst of symbols that visualize Christ's story and gifts of the Holy Spirit. Sounds of baptismal waters pouring into the font. Sitting wrapped in a prayer shawl. Remembering the holiness of communion with a taste of red wine or the smell of fresh bread.

  • Times with family and friends - yearned-for babies held and baptized, a quiet moment in the midst of wedding promises and pageantry, loved ones lost and simultaneously grieved and celebrated, a book-study conversation that makes God's love vivid.

  • Glimpse of sunlight streaming through our art glass windows that remind me of the brilliance of creation and thanksgiving for Light that shines through darkness.

It is people who share God's love with words and deeds, but sanctuary spaces do matter. We don't require a building with a well-outfitted sanctuary to experience God's presence in our lives. If we didn't know it before, we know it now while we experience the pandemic. Beautiful, symbolic worship space with glorious music and art can only be a vessel to hold a personal sense of God's loving, forgiving presence.

But our sanctuary is our shared space where at times we really do experience the touch of God upon us...the place where together we sing and pray and celebrate the Sacraments and learn and go out to live as Christ's disciples...the community in which we bring our children to hear and learn God's message of love and discipleship, whether they acknowledge it now or not...the God-space we approach when we seek to experience the Sacred even when we don't feel it... the place we experience messy highs and lows of life and try to make sense of them...the times we sing about challenges and transformation of our lives, "Lord prepare me to be a Sanctuary...I'll be a living Sanctuary for you..."

Your Chancel Visioning Team of nine members is recommending that our congregation engage in looking at our worship space with new eyes...that together we imagine what our worship space could be if we invest some time and money to visualize flowing baptismal water and serving pottery for the Lord's Supper on a welcoming table with organically designed chancel furniture that lifts up the Word with symbolic reminders supporting those who lead, teach and sing. It feels important that we focus on our familiar Sanctuary to dream and re-new its place for us in times such as these.

- Linda Long


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