On a chilly November evening, I drove down familiar roads to meet middle school youth from my congregation for a synod-sponsored lock-in. The lock-in was being held at the congregation I grew up in. I arrived early to meet with family while a chaperone accompanied the youth on the hour-long drive from the north side of Chicago to the western suburbs.
Walking into the sanctuary of my old congregation, my brain and heart were flooded with tender memories. “I remember when those walls were opened so the sanctuary could be expanded,” I thought, feeling nostalgic.
“That was where my sixth grade Sunday school class was,” I told one of my youth, pointing to what is now a stairwell.
In that moment, I started thinking of all the people who had encouraged me in my faith life in that congregation: my godmother who held me when I was baptized; the choir director who taught me to match pitch; friends who conspired to have fun and make mischief during our confirmation and high school years; the pastor who invited me to preach for the first time, to serve as an assisting minister and, later, to consider going to seminary; the bishop who presided over my ordination.
On a cognitive level, I know that church is more than the bricks and mortar of a building. I know that buildings are static structures and the church is made up of the people who witness to God’s love and grace best known in Jesus. At the same time, I do think that space can be sacred. It might not be the physicality of a space that makes it special, but the memories and experiences attached to it can bring great meaning and depth to my faith and trust in God.
Sitting in the pews of the congregation that had raised me and nurtured my faith, I was reminded through song and story, laughter and dancing with a room full of middle school students how I first learned about and experienced God’s love. I will treasure that sacred space, the moments and people I associate with it, always trusting that God’s love is present both inside and outside of buildings, always going before, with and behind us.