If you have ever visited the beautiful Durham Cathedral you may recognise this image of its famous sanctuary-knocker. In the Middle Ages you could claim sanctuary in church buildings for minor offences, and in some cathedrals for more serious misdemeanours. At Durham, monks were perpetually on duty to open the door to anyone one who grasped the knocker to claim sanctuary. You could stay for 37 days; if innocent you would be helped to negotiate your freedom; if guilty you would be escorted on foot, as a penitent, to a boat at Hartlepool and exile.
This Sunday (21st June) is Sanctuary Sunday, established in connection with the City of Sanctuary Movement, for which our ex-president Inderjit Bhogal was awarded the World Methodist Peace Award in 2018. Following on from Refugee Week, it is when we are asked to remember our call to offer sanctuary and safely to all who may be at risk; a natural expression of our Christian discipleship.
Not often said now, but some of us may remember the place where we worshipped (or part of it) being referred to as ‘the sanctuary’; the place where we felt safe. And although time has shown that this was not always the case, we try now ensure that our churches can be sanctuaries for anyone who may face abuse in their daily lives.
The word ‘sanctuary’ also has a particular ring to it in our current situation, doesn’t it? Last weekend, during the Black Lives Matter demonstrations, one white man found sanctuary on the shoulders of a black ‘Angel’. During this pandemic, for some of us, our homes are now sanctuaries of safety, for which we are grateful. (Sadly for others, though, it may feel like a prison). But however safe or unsafe we may feel in our world in general, our faith, surely, is a place of absolute sanctuary. When we know that Jesus stands beside us, we are held in God’s love, and strengthened by the Holy Spirit, it is then that we find real courage, safety, acceptance and peace.
Matthew 25: 34-36
Hebrews 13: 1-2
If you wish to find out more about ‘Cities of Sanctuary’ go to www.cityofsanctuary.org