11/18/2014 05:09 pm ET Updated Jan 18, 2015

Finding Sanctuary

In the world of Christians there is a difference of opinion as to where salvation happens. Salvation is understood as reconciliation to our true state in God. For some that's all about social justice. For some that's all about personal holiness. All of those terms have lots of potential for interpretation.

For some -- and these distinctions cut across Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, Pentecostal, Charismatic, Evangelical and Emergent -- salvation happens inside of a person, exclusively; for some salvation has to do with the movement of God's reconciling love in the world through the church; and for others the church has nothing to do with it except to get in the way. Anglicans like me like to take a little from each pile.

There's a very popular praise song called "Sanctuary." The lyrics are only "Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true, with thanksgiving I'll be a living sanctuary for you."

I heard it live and in person a few weeks ago for the first time in an Episcopal Church in the great diocese of Rochester.

I heard it for the first time as a 42-year-old priest, because the churches I come from would understand sanctuary as a physical space, literally, a church. Specifically, near the altar is where we would locate the sanctuary. The site of salvation is participation in those communities called "the church" which seek to perfect themselves in practice and teaching, as a haven for God's justice and a witness to God's desire for true reconciliation in this time and place.

So, sanctuary can be either my heart prepared to receive the good news of Jesus, the good news of my salvation from the cycles of sin in this world, or it can be the church building itself separate from the brokenness and evil of the powers and principalities that dominate the world. All told, wherever that starting point is, the point is to drive us out to spread the good news that we do not have to be captive to injustice we generate, enacted upon us, or on our behalf.

Of course, first, we have to decide that we want to be a sanctuary.

Our bishop has instructed us to open our churches when the verdict from the grand jury in Ferguson is read. All that verdict will tell us is whether there is enough evidence for a trial. Whatever it says, it lays open, again, the legacy of black people killed with the collusion of the state in the United States, one of our nations founding sins. To a degree, the particulars in Ferguson don't matter.

Our bishop told us not to be afraid of our neighbors that day, to open our doors, and offer a sanctuary. I don't think we will have a lot of takers in the East Village. If we open our doors, I suspect it will be tourists and a few NYU or SVA students who step in while Jerry and I try to sing Compline, but when we open our doors, despite everything else that has to go on in our buildings to pay our bills that day, we will be saying we are prepared to be a sanctuary, a bearer of hope, tried and true, as is our Christian heritage. We seek our salvation.

Lord, prepare us.