|The Moravian of June 1993 carried a small notice that if anyone was interested in exploring the possibility of forming a group for lesbian and gay Moravians living in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, they should call or write to the phone number given. Several people called.
The first meeting was held in October 1993, beginning at 6:30 PM. At 10:30 people were still sitting around. No one wanted to go home. It was almost as if the group was home. When you are part of a not-very-welcome minority, meeting with those who are like you can be a powerful experience.
At first we called ourselves simply "The Gay/Lesbian Moravian Group." However, we wanted a less generic name. At one meeting we spent a good bit of time brainstorming names. We tried names out of Moravian history, acronyms which were sometimes hilarious and sometimes ungainly, names which needed too much explanation. Then someone said, "How about Sanctuary?", and everybody with one voice said, "Yes!"
A place of refuge
Webster defines "sanctuary" as "a holy place within a church or temple" as well as "a place of refuge and protection." The beauty of calling our group Sanctuary is that both meanings apply.
Who are the members of Sanctuary? A letter to The Moravian (Jan.-Feb. 1996) said, "We are your sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, cousins and perhaps even one of your parents. We are professionals and laypeople, we are Christians, we are Moravians, and we are gay and lesbian."
Why should there be such an organization as Sanctuary? There are a number of answers to that question. The letter in The Moravian continued: "Our hope is to provide an environment in which our people can be nourished without having to go outside the Moravian Church to do so."
Gay and lesbian people in other denominations have felt this same desire. Lesbian/Gay Episcopalians formed Integrity in the 1970's, as did the BMC, the Brethren/Mennonite Council for Lesbian and Gay Concerns. Friends for Lesbian/Gay Concerns was founded even earlier, in England in 1968. Catholics have many chapters of Dignity around the country. Lutherans gather at Lutherans Concerned, Methodists at Affirmation, Presbyterians at PLGC, Presbyterians for Lesbian/Gay Concerns.
In fact, a listing of the national headquarters of gay/lesbian religious caucuses contains the names and addresses of 28 groups. The basic purpose of all 28 groups could doubtless be summed up this way: "We [meet] to celebrate our lives in a way that the church has been unable and at times unwilling to do" (Moravian letter)
Another answer to the question, "Why Sanctuary?" is more obvious. Most congregations have a number of small groups within the framework of the larger group: Bible studies, prayer meetings, singstundes [services of song], women's fellowship groups, men's fellowship groups, youth groups, senior groups, choirs, bell choirs, and even, as another letter in The Moravian (6/96) said, sister and brother quilters. (Yes, at least one quilting group has had a man attend occasionally, and yes, he does his share of stitching.)
Early Moravian "choirs"
Moravians, particularly, should not question a group such as Sanctuary. Our Moravian forebears met in small groups called "choirs," designated according to age and gender. The purpose of these choirs was to experience the risen Christ in a way not experienced during corporate worship nor through the Sunday morning education hour. "There is a sense of commonality in spirit and purpose which permeates a small group which is difficult to describe, yet fundamentally important to the development of one's spiritual life." (6/96 Moravian letter)
Still other reasons for an organization such as Sanctuary were summed up by a member thus:
> Promote enlightenment through education of issues concerning the lesbian and gay community.
> Provide support and Christian understanding for lesbians and gay men and their families.
> Provide a positive voice to answer misinformation.
> Provide a forum for our group to discuss concerns that confront us in our lives and in our congregations.
> Provide an arena in which to discuss current issues of interest to lesbian and gay people.
> Provide a network of like-minded individuals to accomplish tasks that might be impossible individually.
> Provide opportunities for social contact with other lesbian and gay Moravians.
At Sanctuary Meetings
What do we do at Sanctuary meetings? We usually open the meeting with a liturgy or at least a devotional reading, from the Moravian Daily Texts if appropriate, or from Chris Glaser's The Word is Out. We have spent some time at meetings putting together our own liturgies, and on occasion a member has brought a liturgy he or she has written.
We have read and discussed Gary David Comstock's Gay Theology Without Apology, as well as articles dealing with biblical interpretation, such as Victor Paul Furnish's "What Does Scripture Say? How Shall We Listen? The Bible and Homosexuality."
We have watched and then discussed videos such as:
> Body of Dissent: Lesbian and Gay Mennonites Continue the Journey. A dozen lesbians and gay men talk about their spiritual journey and how it relates to the Mennonite Church.
> Maybe We're Talking About a Different God, the story of Dr. Jane Adams Spahr's call to the Downtown Presbyterian Church in Rochester, NY, and the process which barred her from becoming one of Downtown's pastors.
> 1500 Years of the Church Blessing Lesbian and Gay Relationships, the film of an address John Boswell gave at a national Integrity gathering with information subsequently published in Same-Sex Unions.
> Priest, a commercial film dealing with the struggles of a Catholic priest in Ireland who is gay.
We have had our own Christmas candlelight service; our own Communion service; a Halloween costume party meeting, at which we welcomed, among other guests, the Oak Tree Spirit, with a garland of oak leaves in his hair; potlucks and cookouts.
Over the centuries the Bible has been used in many ways to exclude those whom church leaders deemed unacceptable to God. As we look back now, we see that the message of the Bible was wrongly interpreted.
What Jesus said
In the present battle over admission of lesbian and gay people into the church, into the ranks of ministry, and into marriage/holy union/blessing of relationships, there has been much quoting of Bible verses and Bible passages, both pro and con. In doing this, it has often been noted that Jesus was silent on the whole subject of homosexual acts or homosexual orientation.
In the last week of his life, however, he cleared the money changers from the temple. A look at this story provides as good an answer as any to the question, "Why Sanctuary?"
Mark 11: 15-17 tells the story: Then they came to Jerusalem. And [Jesus] entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves... He was teaching and saying, "Is it not written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations'? But you have made it a den of robbers."
The area of the temple in which the sellers, the buyers, and the money changers were transacting business was the Court of the Gentiles, where the Word of God was to be made known to all people, including the eunuchs, women, foreigners, and everyone not allowed into the temple proper.
Jesus was quoting from Isaiah 56: 4-7, and in order to understand this passage more fully, it is helpful to know that eunuchs and foreigners were not acceptable to God, according to Hebrew law.
For thus says the Lord: "To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name which shall not be cut off.
And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, all who keep the Sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant -- these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples."
As the letter in the June 1996 Moravian said: "We need a group like Sanctuary, if for no other reason, to keep us mindful of the fact that God's love, and God's house, God's blessing, God's holy meal, and God's Son are for all."
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