When I saw the spire ablaze begin to crumble, I had a visceral reaction.
Why did a cathedral in a foreign country, housing Catholic worship services so different from my own nondenominational Protestantism, mean so much to me? I had studied it many times in French classes from junior high through high school, memorizing its history. Then I was blessed to set foot inside three times. I sat in its pews. I prayed there. I watched my husband admire the centuries-old architecture, watched my daughter sketch the stained glass in her journal. I spent an hour with my family outside in its gardens in spring of 2017, just sitting contentedly under the blossoms of a tree, and we had one of the most peaceful afternoons of my recent memory.
The Notre Dame Cathedral fire had reached my attention mere minutes after it began. I happened to be on social media for a client, and the news popped up.
Just that morning another tab on my browser had been opened to updates about blazes begun many days ago in my own country. Three houses of worship in Louisiana were burned with malicious intent, targeted because of the skin tone of their church members. While their structures were not world renown, the losses burned just as intensely for three bodies of believers without a home.
In both instances, I ache for the people of faith now displaced. A church body set to wander and find a new sacred space on this upcoming holy day of Easter.
These incidents were swirling in my mind this evening as I laced up my shoes and headed out for a run. Up the block I went, and instantly I was struck by the beauty of our own church spires and stained glass windows that I get to see from my door each day. I say “our” church, but the building is not ours to own. In fact, the church I have been a part of for almost 14 years is currently worshiping in our third meeting space.
I turned the corner and up a few blocks and there ran past our very first church building. Another gorgeous structure with stone and stained glass and a pipe organ inside. The was the first place we became Echo Church; we were able to rent it out on Sunday nights, gathering as a few friends who sought to worship, pray, and fellowship in our community—simply, to become a church.
I realized I wanted to finish the trifecta, so I took off a mile away with intention, arriving at the small box of a building where our friends lead a church. They had graciously rented to us when we had to vacate space number one quite quickly. It was a temporary home for an in-between season.
Three buildings in 14 years. As I ran, I thanked the Lord for each edifice. Each sacred space where I sat and stood, where I bowed my head in prayer and raised my hands in praise, where I was challenged to look at God’s Word in a new light, where I met strangers who became friends as close as family. Yes, I know buildings don’t last forever, but spaces can inspire and invite, can shelter and strengthen.
That displaced, nomadic feeling of a church without a home is not new to me. I have felt unmoored a couple of times.
But I’ve learned that spaces become meaningful because of the people you share them with.
My friends in California are living proof of that. Last fall Hope Christian Church was ravaged by the most destructive fire in the state, and most members were displaced from their homes as well. Yet they haven’t missed a Sunday, gathering together to worship and hug one another, grateful for another day to be alive.
Where they meet is secondary to who is standing by their side.
Today I pray for my sisters and brothers in Christ who’ve lost their sacred spaces. Those in Paris. Those in Louisiana. Those in California. Those in Venezuela and Haiti where civil unrest brings uncertainty to each gathering. Those in Myanmar and Pakistan and India whose worship is watched with sideways glances and sometimes must be moved. Those I don’t even know about.
I pray that wherever they meet—wherever you and I meet—and however long we get to meet there, we exalt the name of the Lord together and anticipate an eternal sacred space being built for us by an unparalleled architect:
“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents . . . For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (Hebrews 11:8-10)