Happy Monday, Friends! My mom’s favorite hymn for as long as I can remember is “On Eagle’s Wings.” Often, though not always, used at funerals or at times of distress, the first verse states: “You who dwell in the shelter of the Lord, who abide in his shadow for life, say to the Lord: My refuge, my rock in whom I trust! And he will raise you up on eagle's wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, make you to shine like the sun, and hold you in the palm of his hand.”* I’ve heard and sung that line so many times. As people of faith, we are taught to put all our trust, all our hope, all ourselves into the hands of God. While that proposition sometimes gives us comfort or strength, it’s also problematic when God, represented by the church, looks less like a refuge and more like a prison.
It’s relatively easy to define what a shelter is, name types of shelters, or discuss how to give shelter, but what does it mean to seek shelter? Growing up the church was often our shelter. We knew we would be welcomed there, could be ourselves around friends who shared similar beliefs and backgrounds, and that we had many parents whether we wanted them or not. But the church was not equipped to handle all our questions or ready to deal with the identities which we expressed. So, our refuges became sites of trauma and broken promises. When the church excludes you, it is very difficult to think that God is a refuge, a rock, or a person in whom we might put our trust. The church has not made LGBTQIA+ people to shine like the sun in most cases. Put simply, the church was not designed for LGBTQIA+ people.
The church has been designed for the people in power. Look at any congregation, how they worship, how they construct their facility, and who they select as their leaders, and you can understand what they value. Is the building accessible? Are ASL interpreters or other resources for deaf and hard of hearing people available? Does the leadership team include women and Queer people? Are people told to “please stand” during worship or are caveats given for people who can’t stand (a simple “standing as we are able” or “please stand in body or in spirit” can be transformative)? Even churches founded in part to right historical and social wrongs often reflect the people who founded them. Humans only see a few steps in front of themselves.
Where do you find shelter? How has the church or religion been a refuge for you? How has it let you down?
Let us pray: God, we pray for the church. Fill it with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it sins, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in anything it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus your son. Amen. (Adapted from the Book of Common Prayer, 1979)