Tending Holy Places

Recently I have been involved in a discussion with a seminary colleague who wrote an article on the over 20,000 member United Methodist Church of the Resurrection’s decision to build a new facility that is smaller and more intimate “where people in worship can see a baptism with their naked eye instead of on a big screen.”  The new building plan includes building a sanctuary that looks more like a holy space and less like a convention center auditorium, including one of the largest stained glass windows in America that will be highly visible from the main highway 2 miles away that flows into and out of Kansas City.  I alluded to a classroom conversation that I remembered from 10 years ago in my response to that friend’s article.  As I recall it, there was a spirited discussion about the role of a minister, and after throwing out several suggestions, someone came up with a descriptor we all liked—it is my role to be a curator of the church.  According to Wikipedia,  “Traditionally, a curator or keeper of a cultural heritage institution (e.g., gallery, museum, library or archive) is a content specialist responsible for an institution’s collections and involved with the interpretation of heritage material.” Of course, this definition doesn’t fully tap into the “pastoral” aspect of ministry, but I think it serves pretty well to describe what a minister does to foster a sense of sacredness in a “local holy place.” 

I wrapped up Dr. Oden’s April 6 lecture by making a connection between the sermon, which had been on “Gospel Hospitality,” and the lecture, which was a world tour of the world’s holiest places.  I told about how I had talked that day with a guest (another minister colleague of mine) who had been told the story of the sanctuary and the people who built it by one of our church members after worship.  (Good job, Mary Alice!)  I proposed that we are the stewards of a place that draws people in—perhaps on a smaller scale than the Vatican or the Ganges River, but a “Holy Place” none the less.  As such, we are commissioned with the charge of welcoming others and caring for the grounds.  All of the world’s holy places have caretakers.  They make the places ready to be encountered, and in so doing facilitate a sacred experience—a new story—to be made by the people who come to them.  I told the church people that rarely a day goes by that someone doesn’t drop in to see and experience our church.  We leave the sanctuary open on weekdays to facilitate this.  I believe Amy Oden’s interpretive sermon and lecture helped us clarify the reason we do what we do here at UUMC, and made me especially thankful for the team of volunteers and staff who make our church beautiful and welcoming.  Especially on this Easter Monday following a Holy Week during which we had around 170 people here for our Living Last Supper and Good Friday Tenebrae, and more than 240 people here for two services on Sunday, I’m thankful for all the time and energy spent by our worship committee to make things prepared.  I’m thinking of our Board of Trustees, and especially of Barry Hargrove, who got out in the courtyard and planted flowers, spread mulch, and refinished our doors.  I’m thinking of our custodian, Greg, who juggled sanctuary preparations with preschool and ESL clean up during a packed week.  I’m thinking of the Calls, who worked to prepare a “sonic landscape” that was enriching as well (and even threw in a regular “Third Thursday” recital that drew over 400 people to our sanctuary on Thursday.)  Through all of these efforts, we have provided a holy place that hopefully made a lasting impact on our guests and visitors.