Yes, you can go there!
As a child, our church’s sanctuary was not a place of mystery or wonder for me, but a place of prohibition. DON’T touch the organ! DON’T go behind the pulpit. DON’T ever touch the altar. As it turned out, the unapproachable sanctuary translated for me into a feeling that our pastor, and God, were unapproachable too. To be fair, that was not the intention of my church or its leaders and I know they would be horrified to hear that. Fostering a sense of the holy, creating a sanctuary space, and keeping the sanctuary in good order were among the goals. Whatever the goals, though, learned that there was no place for me in the sanctuary, and even, no place for me in God. NOT GOOD.
Like the childhood me, like many children in churches all over the world, I think that many adults in our churches experience the sanctuary as a place of prohibition, too. No…don’t…not there…NEVER there…The question becomes: how do we change that so our sanctuaries are not places of prohibition for adults and children alike, but are places of invitation?
One simple way to open up your sanctuary, and so to open up God in Christ, is to invite people into all of its nooks and crannies. Here are some practical ideas for ways you might do that:
- One of the members of our worship team has committed to changing our altar display weekly (which many churches do). Working from the Scriptural theme of the day, she places objects on it that reinforce the theme. THEN. Some Sundays we draw attention to it and invite people during or after the service to ascend the steps of our chancel and look at what is on the altar. They might even touch and that’s great!
- Be intentional about inviting people of all ages, lengths of time in the community, skills, etc. to lead worship through Word, prayer, music. This gets more people behind the pulpit, behind the lectern, in the choir loft, etc. This expands the individual leader’s familiarity with the sanctuary, sends the message to others they are allowed to go to those places too, and makes the sacred space no less sacred and a lot more approachable.
- Move furniture around. Pulpit, lectern, Communion table, even the altar in many of our churches can be easily moved. So do that sometimes and make sacred places and sacred things more fluid in the minds of your congregation. This can help to expand the experience of the holy, from this object and that part of the sanctuary to the whole space and all within it.
- During Lent a few years ago we did something called Capturing Lent (click link for more detailed explanation). During a children’s message we went on a walk as a whole group around the whole sanctuary and invited the kids to take pictures of places that needed some resurrection (chipping paint, broken pews, torn carpet, etc.). We then projected those images in following weeks as a picture meditation. In one children’s message we made the kids both sanctuary explorers and worship leaders.
- Universally, kids like hitting piano/organ keys and playing with microphones. Pick a Sunday once in a while, maybe during a children’s message, maybe after worship, to invite the kids to play the piano, mess with the organ, and talk into microphones.
- Look for opportunities to during worship services that get people moving around the sanctuary such as: a) congregational laying on of hands for a person/team leaving for a learning and serving trip, b) providing time for people to light prayer candles, c) displaying artwork that people are invited to come and see during a service, d) create rituals that encourage people to get up from the pews and come forward to offer or place an object, e) celebrate Holy Communion with multiple stations placed in various locations, etc.
© Rev. Kevin Goldenbogen, 2016