Sanctuary

Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: Though I removed them far off among the nations, and though I scattered them among the countries, yet I have been a sanctuary to them for a while in the countries where they have gone.’ - Ezekiel 11.6 ESV

“Sanctuary” has become an important term for me in the past three days. In our church, there’s the proposal to change the sanctuary somewhat by trialling the use of chairs in place of pews for the summer in the first couple of rows. But then there’s also the sanctuary we call “home.” On Tuesday, one of our members called me up after picking up a woman out in the pouring rain from a bus stop. The woman was homeless, had fled a domestic violence issue in Baltimore, and was relying on the minimal shelter of a bus stop to sleep and maintain her for the past couple of weeks. After trying to get her into a shelter and finding them full, we used church resources to put her into a hotel for two nights. The next day, she went to a doctors appointment, then to social services, and still had no where to go. She kept in touch with me and our church member, asking for prayers, knowing that she had one more night of clean sheets and a roof. 

Thursday morning, she called me up and asked if I would pray with her over the phone as she prepared to check out. I did, praying for open doors, patience, strength, and courage. I prayed that help could come from unexpected quarters, citing the parable of the Good Samaritan. I could not imagine her position. It’s never easy to tell someone that the time is up, and to go back outside, knowing that she was likely returning to a bus stop. Having just moved into a new house, this is even more keenly felt.

A couple of hours later, a social worker from YWCA called and said we could get her into Sarah’s House, the main shelter in Anne Arundel County, if she went to social services in Glen Burnie right away. It took the better part of the day to make that happen, along with some disappointments that almost derailed the effort, but we got her to Glen Burnie. She slept in Sarah’s House last night. She gave thanks to God to be there. 

Later on Thursday, I received a call from Suzanne Martin, who coordinates the Annapolis sanctuary network for immigrant justice. Guillermo, a person whose family we have supported through that effort, had been denied a Motion to Remain. This means he could be deported anytime. An appeal is being lodged. Still, this is a heart-wrenching for his family, who have permission to remain. It is difficult for those with whom he worked. He has no sanctuary, sharing a two-person cell with two other people in Frederick. Yet yesterday afternoon, another church member, me, and Suzanne sat down for coffee and discussed a scholarship to AACC for his daughter through the sanctuary effort, for she is here having been granted asylum.

Finding sanctuary will mean different things based on circumstance. It may be a motel room or Sarah’s House. It might mean a sanctuary for worship. It could mean an education. In the course of two days, the people of this church explored all of those meanings in great depth, emotionally and otherwise. There was success and failure. There is prayer. There were tears of joy and tears of grief. 

These have been a stressful few days. I had hoped for restful days leading up to General Synod so I could read and prepare for that event. Those church members who have been working on these issues also had other plans, too. Yet this is a calling, and I give thanks to God to be part of a church that lives its life in such a way. These are not rare stories in UCC Annapolis. May we all be so blessed.

Thank you for all your gifts and your giving. 

Shalom,

Pastor Ryan