What Does It Mean to Be a People of Sanctuary?
Leah | Oct 01, 2018

Religious Exploration – What Does It Mean To Be A People of Sanctuary?

From the Soul Matters Program- Just saying the word “sanctuary” brings one a sense of peace and safety. It can bring back conflicted memories for some, but for most of us the idea of sanctuary conjures up feelings of being protected. Like its close cousin refuge, it speaks to the universal longing for a space to retreat from the dangers and depletions of the world. One thinks of the family ties and friendships that protect, restore and heal us.  The sanctuary movement and its refuge for immigrants is another powerful example of offering life-giving safe space. As the well-loved Irish proverb puts it, “It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.” So, certainly, the hunger for protection and the call to protect each other is central to this month.

I’m excited to bring this theme to three of the religious services I’ll be involved with this month.

As usual, I’ll start the faith development for children in grade 7 and younger and their families with Family Chapel on the first Sunday of the month (Oct 7).  And as usual, we’ll meet for this service in the Sanctuary. We’ll be finding ways to explore the Sanctuary and the meaning and messages it has for us. What did the people of the First Unitarian Society of Albany want to convey about sanctuary when they build this space in 1921?  What has been added to it since then? What meaning does it have for us today?

I’ll be leading the service on Oct 14, also in the Sanctuary, with Rick Porterfield playing the hymns and musical pieces our beautiful organ – should be impressive! On this Sunday, we’ll be exploring the sanctuary within each of us.  How can we find that still small voice within us? How can we be attuned to what it telling us? This is a service for all ages with a full sermon to engage the hearts and minds of adults – but divided into chunks, with more music than traditional services, and with more opportunities for participation.  For their faith development, the children and youth will attend the service on this Sunday instead of having Sunday school.

The last day of the month (Oct 28) is our traditional, multigenerational Wheel of Life Service. We’ll explore how we create a shelter for each other. This is a chance for us to remember the transitions in our lives of the past year. Anyone who has experienced a major life transition is invited to bring a picture, a symbol, or a memento of that event. It can be brought forward during service to honor that transition (and may be retrieved after service ends). I’ll tell a lovely little story written by one of my colleagues called “The Umbrella Sanctuary.” Its message is described as certainly for kids and adults alike. In it, the umbrella represents the many ways others offer us sanctuary from the storms of life as well as the many ways we can pass on that shelter to others. The story also gently reminds us that we overlook opportunities to offer shelter and sanctuary every day. If our attention is woke, we notice that all around us people are “wet with rain.” As Unitarian Universalists, we called to notice and to respond. What should our responses be? For their faith development also on this Sunday, the children and youth will attend the service on this Sunday instead of having Sunday school. We’ll meet for this service in Community Hall.

Parents and caretakers, look for other ways to bring the theme of sanctuary home in my weekly RE newsletters. I want to support you in your role as your child’s religious upbringing and help to strengthen the home/Albany UU connection.

And I invite everyone to add to the interactive bulletin boards in Channing Hall and in the basement on the theme of Sanctuary.

And finally, everyone is invited to explore the questions on our interactive bulletin boards: “Where do you find shelter?” and “Having been empowered by shelter, how can you share that same gift with others?”

Here’s to exploring together!

In joyful service,


Leah Purcell

Director of Religious Educaion and Family Ministry

Credentialed Religious Educator