Places of Sanctuary

I spoke to someone recently who hadn’t been in the church building for some time. They told me it felt like coming home. There’s a reassuring sense of peace you get when you come across the door and take your seat. You recognise faces that you haven’t seen for a while and, somehow, it makes you feel settled to know that some of those people you remember from your childhood, or from many years past, are still there. 

I meet people often who, for a whole host of reasons, have stopped going to church. Maybe something terrible happened in their life and they believe God could have prevented it and He didn’t, so they want nothing more to do with Him. Others don’t like the nature of the services and find them either too modern or too traditional and, rather than look elsewhere, they take umbrage sometimes and leave the whole institution. I meet some people, too, who feel embarrassed that they have, somehow, got out of the way of it and have drifted away. Circumstances, like the global pandemic, or a change in their working patterns, meant they stopped coming for a while, and now they have got used to not coming and do other things on a Sunday morning. Sometimes, they feel they have been away for such a long time, they feel everyone would be looking at them if they came back.

I can understand all of these reasons and, often, because of the position I hold, people feel a need to explain themselves if I call. If you think of pastoral visiting in this context, it’s not such a positive thing really. If people believe that the only reason you are calling is to make them feel guilty, or to persuade them of their need to come back to church, they are unlikely to be too well disposed towards whatever you want to say to them.

It’s hard to explain that you are just calling to see how they are, that this is part of the ministry of the church and that, if at some point you have registered or affiliated yourself with this community, we will be calling with you. It’s simply an opportunity to talk about some of the things that might be going on in your life or your family’s life and, if you would like someone to pray about that with you, that’s what we do.

The reason I decided to do something that many would consider as pointless or a waste of time, is because I discovered at first hand in my teens what it is to be known and loved by God. Someone shared that message with me and I took it to heart and it’s the greatest joy to help others to discover this amazing truth for themselves. It doesn’t happen all that frequently, if I’m honest, but when it does, you feel like you have been part of the most marvellous thing.

It’s a message that seems to resonate at different times and in different circumstances for people.

No matter what it is we might be going through, it’s good to find a place of sanctuary and hope and I believe the church can offer such a space to all who are seeking it.

Last weekend, I took my mum to hospital for a medical procedure. The hospital, like some others in the Republic of Ireland, is run under a Christian ethos. As she was understandably anxious about the procedure, the staff allowed me to stay with her until it was time to go to theatre. They told me to head off for a cup of coffee and they would phone when all was over and she was on the recovery ward.

I took myself down to the foyer to read my book and my eyes were drawn to a sign that said ‘Oratory.’ It was a little chapel and, as I went inside, I felt that peace that people sometimes describe when they go into a sacred space.

I sat there for a while and prayed and read some leaflets that contained Bible verses and information about how Mass was said daily in the Oratory and patients were welcome to tune in via their television as the service was live streamed.

As I made my way the next morning to the car park, a group of people handed me a leaflet. They were from a local church and they wanted to help anyone who felt in need. They ran a food bank, they prayed with people about their problems, they ran groups for people with addictions and they offered to visit anyone who was lonely. It was a very encouraging leaflet. 

Where are the places of sanctuary in your life? Can you be such a place for those you know? Can our church be such a place?

Could I ask you to hold in prayer the Armstrong family circle following the death of Michael last weekend? Michael’s funeral will take place at 10.30 am next Tuesday, 30th January.

Look forward to speaking again soon.

Much love to everyone,


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