Sanctuary Movement: From Doing To Being

Sanctuary Movement: From Doing To Being


Find this commentary in the March issue of The Vision.


For the past 10 days, these words have been piercing my mind – knocking hard on the door of my heart and soul. It feels like a nagging child that wants a piece of cake at the beginning of the party; but that has to wait until the end to get it.

“Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary . . .”

I find myself reciting or singing and even shouting these words at some point in the day. For those of you that know me well, you will know that I am not just talking about the praise song. My desire is not simply some type of individual spirituality that could bring me closer to God, or mental space where I can hide for a moment. It is not about reaching that exciting moment in worship when we raise our hands for a couple of minutes pretending that somehow we have literally entered the throne of grace. Please do not misinterpret, those moments are needed to fuel our spirits. but in this instance what I am referring to is the concept of being a sanctuary; and that as we ask God to prepare us, to become, there is already an action of being; almost as if being and becoming are walking as one.

A concept of sanctuary as just “a safe place,” leaves me empty, wanting more. Nowadays many local sanctuaries are far from being a sanctuary, even for their own members. Nevertheless, for those who have been placed on the margins, I believe that this time and season is calling us – the church – to redefine how we think about physical sanctuary.

For the past 14 months many have approached me to ask about what it means for a church to become sanctuary, and what follows is: “How do we prepare our buildings to be sanctuaries?” This question has left me eager to hear next, “and beside the building, how do we prepare ourselves to be a sanctuary?” We are temples of the Holy Spirit, and for this reason, we are called to embody the word sanctuary.

“Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary . . .” is more than a song, it is more than something that we will become in the future, it is more than an individual space of solitude. Being a sanctuary requires a change of heart, a heart that lets the Holy Spirit inhabit its space. Being a sanctuary depicts the heart of Jesus. Jesus embodied being a sanctuary every day that he walked this earth, and we’re called to follow his footsteps.

We must be aware that works of mercy alone are more about us than about “the other.” That is why our works of mercy are to be followed by the work of justice. We will be doing nothing if our only goal is to provide for the immediate need. The goal of the works of mercy in hand with the works of justice, is that it engages the work of liberation from within the people’s own voice, keeping their dignity intact, treating the sickness and not just the symptom.

This reminds me of 1 John 3:18, “Little children, let us love not in word and speech, but in action and truth.” Our immigrant friends need more than a physical space; they need a community that would walk alongside them as they navigate this unjust system.

Sanctuary is more than a safe space.

Sanctuary is what we are in the pursuit of justice.

Sanctuary is seeing the face of Jesus in the other.

Sanctuary is hearing the voice of Jesus, saying “because I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

Feliz is a pastor in the Hudson Highlands Cooperative Parish and is the chair of the NYAC Immigration Task Force.