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Sanctuary of the Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago

Photo by George C Slade


A couple weeks ago I was in Chicago to attend the Progressive Youth Ministry Conference at Fourth Presbyterian Church. One of the mornings there I walked into the beautiful old sanctuary to sit and listen to the Orpheus Choir from Olivet Nazarene University. This choir had some fantastic singers, with really high class musicianship. Their voices lifting to the ceiling of that old cathedral style sanctuary was enough to send chills down your spine and make the hairs on your arms stand on end. It was a sacred, holy space.

Fourth Presbyterian Church allows anyone to be in the sanctuary all day as long as they remain upright in the pews. People experiencing homelessness often spend time in the church, able to sleep as long as they don’t lie down. Sitting directly behind me during that concert was such a man, dirty and a little smelly, exhausted from life on the streets and grateful to be inside for a bit. Only five minutes into the concert, in addition to the beautiful sound of the choral voices rising into the rafters, I could hear the distinct and sudden snort of a snore. Yes, right in the middle of this magnificent concert the man behind me was snoring.

To be honest I was a bit frustrated at first. This man was interrupting an incredible concert! Then I got to thinking about sanctuary, the very nature of the word. For some of us the sanctuary is the place of worship, the sacred space for beautiful songs and choruses praising God.  But for this man, sanctuary was safety, was an opportunity to get out of that biting Chicago wind and somewhere where he was welcome and warm. Is that not sacred? In that sanctuary on that day, the line between sacred and profane was blurred.

There is something fundamentally difficult for us in that close proximity of sacred and profane. The beauty of Holy Week is that it brings us to a time when those things come so close together. Death is the profane and perceived enemy we have fought from the beginning. Resurrection, life, is the sacred that Christ brings us toward. Problem is, the thing that we consider profane may actually be holy: Christ rising can’t happen without Christ first dying.

Perhaps it makes us uncomfortable when we get these so-called profane moments happening alongside and in close relationship with the things we consider holy. Perhaps they are so close, in fact, that we can no longer tell the difference between the two. Let us walk through Holy Week with this discomfort in our hearts, eyes open to sacred and profane both made new in Christ.

sacred space

shared with strangers
stumblers on the setting
in the cavernous sanctuary
hushed whispers of anticipation
the moment
the music of humanity
accompanied by piano
and the snore of the man behind me
What is sacred?
What is beautiful?
He comes off the street
and has a place to sleep
as the voices of angels fill the room.
Child of God.

Luke Rembold  was a YAV 2010-2011 in Tucson, AZ. he served a nonprofit that did emergency home repair for low-income residents of the area. Now, he works to try to bring that broad community to the youth of Oregon. Luke is a youth director at a small church in Eastern Oregon, which gives him ample opportunities to do many of the things he loves, including music, backpacking, playing tennis, and being barefoot. Twitter