Last weekend, I finished my most favorite volunteer job ever: a one-year term as moderator of the Congregational Church on Sanibel Island. The moderator leads the church council, the governing body of the church. In our church, one prepares for being moderator by first serving a year as vice moderator. So this was really a two-year stint.
My first thought, when it came time to prepare my “Year in Review” comments for last Sunday's annual meeting, was to do what I’d done before when I’d led nonprofit organizations: go through the year’s reports, minutes, news releases, calendar, etc., and write a summary.
|Tillandsia thriving in a safe place on a tree trunk.
But the church annual report already had brief and informative reports from each of the committees, the deacons' board, and the church council. I urged church members to take them home, read them, and think about how they’d like to be involved with the church in the years to come.
So instead of trying to summarize those summaries, I wanted to talk about just three things that were unique to this past year. Each of them had to do with providing sanctuary.
Sanctuary, according to the dictionary, is 1. a place of refuge or safety, or 2. a nature reserve.
At the Sanibel Congregational Church, we have both. This past year we concluded a process of evaluating options for a 17.5 acre parcel of land that is behind the church, just beyond our memorial garden (a resting place for the ashes of church members who have died).
The church council reached the conclusion that we should retain this land as a preserve – or a sanctuary. Using information we gathered as we examined options, we found a way that we can regularly and affordably maintain this land relatively free of invasive exotic vegetation. Last spring, this 17.5 acres was included, along with the rest of the church grounds, in a National Wildlife Garden certification, thanks to the work of the church's Green Team and youth group. I'll tell you more about the Green Team next week.
As I explained it to someone who asked, this wild 17.5 acres is sanctuary for wildlife (including a bald eagle nest), just as the rest of the church grounds and facilities are sanctuary for people.
I love that part of our church covenant that conveys our commitment to the environment and people all in one sentence: We will serve and support each other, and do all we can to protect as well the birds, animals, and plants on this fragile barrier island.
|Sunrise at the west end of Sanibel Island.
In the past three years, the church’s Green Team has been actively – and I mean ACTIVELY – carrying out projects to help protect the environment. And some of them, like using plarn (yarn made from plastic bags) to make woven mats that are given to shelters and to the homeless, combine caring for people and caring for the environment.
It is wonderful and appropriate that last Sunday we voted to make the Green Team a committee officially included in our church's bylaws.
We are a warm, welcoming, and affirming church. We believe that all people are God’s children. We also voted overwhelmingly for the open and affirming (ONA) covenant last Sunday to make it clear to all that this is a safe place, you can come here without fear of being judged or excluded. We are a true sanctuary. All are welcome here.
Here's that ONA covenant:
The Sanibel Congregational United Church of Christ is a church where you will be loved, accepted, supported, and affirmed regardless of your age, class, ability, race, ethnicity, gender identification, or sexual orientation. No matter who you are, or where you are in your life journey, you are welcome here!
This week, after Pastor John Danner preached a sermon called “No Matter Who” on Martin Luther King Sunday, he received this email from a visitor:
Thanks very much for your thought provoking and excellent sermon today. I am a visitor to your church this season and found myself knowing I was sitting in the right place at the right time to celebrate MLK's vision for a better world. It is nice to know that Sanibel Island . . . has such a welcoming, loving space for all who walk through the door.
Now that’s what I call providing sanctuary.