The Limits of Sanctuary

The end has been long in coming, but this week I am wrapping up my work at the church I have attended for the last decade.*  I have already said no to continuing as worship department chair (to the delight of many, I am sure), and next week I will submit the report to the board regarding the nomination of board officers for 2010.  After next Tuesday, I have only three days that require my attendance, and one of those is to place flowers.

I am leaving my roles in the church in part because of the events surrounding Rev. Dean’s departure last month, but as anyone who has read parts of this series on sanctuary is already aware, I knew my own departure was imminent months ago.

Certainly the fact that a member of the church could send a letter to the minister, threatening him, his family, and his “cohort” was a nail in an already closed coffin, as I cannot abide remaining in a situation that perpetuated such hatred.  Make no mistake, this was not the work of one unhinged soul; it was, rather, the culmination of so many pieces, ones I have written about before and ones I will write about today.

Worse yet?  It was not the only letter received that week, though the other was not sent to Rev. Dean.  That other letter, though, was equally appalling and destructive.  I’ve never seen the second letter, and I hope I never do.  To know what it contained, the cruelties it aimed at people I hold dear, people I admire so very much, is enough.

I cannot allow it to appear that I support these letters or their writers by remaining here and silent (well, here and loud, either, for that matter).

I sat through the service for the First Sunday of Advent this year, feeling numb.  Advent has been tough the last few years; I acted as worship chair for several years in part to mediate between Rev. Dean and some members of the church during this season, as it constantly seemed to bring out the worst.  This year, there was none of that strife–I did little other than arrange the decorations for the Hanging of the Green service.  We sang the standard carols, heard the standard lessons, and, still, I felt completely numb. Not even the rage I’d felt the day before, hearing once again the litany against “them”–the AA meetings to whom we provide space.

Even while singing carols that mean so very much to me, I felt nothing.  In that place and space, Advent has been leached of its hope and magic for me, at least this year.  While I could probably be accused of rushing to the manger, I truly enjoy the season of Advent, because of the hope and promise of sanctuary, here made manifest in the story of a manger.

So, in light of all of this, next week, I will submit the following, both to resign my position as Elder and to further withdraw from the church.

Dear Elders, Board Members, and Church:

I find myself in an unusual place right now, feeling lost for words and unsure of how to convey what I now feel and think, and how to ensure that my point is made, when I have no clear idea how to articulate it.  Suffice to begin by getting to the heart of the matter: with this letter, I submit my resignation as an Elder of this church, effective on January 1, 2010, as have so many of the people I respect and cherish already.

Thank you for the opportunities of the last eleven years.  To be called as Elder was among the most meaningful experiences of my life so far; I remain both honored and humbled for it.  However, the events of the past few years have made the limits of sanctuary visible to me, and I believe, in this light, that this church can no longer be a sanctuary for me and, as consequence, I cannot help lead it to remain or become a safe space for others.  Lest there be any confusion in what I mean here–I mean nothing about the building.  Bricks and mortar and stained glass do not a sanctuary make.

My decision was made months ago, though I had intended to wait until Fall to submit my letter.  The position I started in January is far more demanding of my time and energies than I would have imagined, and I cannot in good conscience pretend that I can fully engage the work necessary for strong church leadership, ever how much I wish that I could.  Moreover, in light of the events of fall, beginning with a letter that has been too little recognized as a brutal violation of the sanctuary of this space to Rev Dean’s resignation to the events of November’s board meeting and G’s own resignation and the continual, but vocal and painful resistance from some to AA meetings in these walls, I withheld my letter.  There was too much going on; the words I had then were too fiery to be fair. My resignation is not about Rev. Dean, or other members, or AA, the 8:30 service, or G, or the building, or mediation, or the scores of other pieces, truly it is about a desire to seek and create sanctuary, and I feel I cannot do that here, ever as much as I have tried.

We’ll still be here, at least for a while, and I do pray for this church and for peace here, unceasingly.  My hope is for the church to flourish. In the nominating process, I tried to leave you with officers I believe can lead the church to that peace and through any rough seas that may be ahead.  I wish I could count myself among those who would help in the days ahead, and I pray for the best for all of you.

Yours in Peace,


*Funny, as I type that I realize how silly it is that I still feel like I am new there.  It’s been 11 years.  Criminey.


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