By Barbara E. Ochterski
What is a sacred space? It can be a church, a special place in nature, a home or the place you and your partner met. It is a place that has been deemed worthy in our eyes and hearts.
Churches in their many forms are sacred spaces. Monasteries, and natural wonders are holy ground as well. In a very special way so are the hills, streams and pastures of a monastery in downstate New York where we visit annually. That is a space that one can call back into their mind’s eye or heart when steadiness, comfort or grounding is personally needed.
If this is true, then what happens when a sacred space is no longer available to the person who once revered it? How can a person surrender her sacred space? How can this change be for the good?
My faith community suffered such a loss many years ago when our church was closed. As parishioners, now former parishioners, we mightily mourned the loss. It was only after several years and much conversation and reflection that the former parishioners began to realize not only the worth of the gift we had cherished all those years, but also the opportunities we now had to discover other sacred spaces and to call them blessed in a fresh way.
Of course, the men and women so affected brought their own gifts to the new places of worship. However, our community of friends and fellow laborers in the “vineyard” were never to be the same. Today we remember fondly our beloved parish and bring some of that joy-filled experience to different settings.
Most of all, what really helped me accommodate to the loss is the fact that this church was taken over by another religious denomination and so, while not my church anymore, it thankfully remains a vibrant place of worship, prayer and service lovingly cared for by other believers. That transition helped us all.
Many other places of worship have also taken on new meaning as mosques, temples and even art galleries. That is an appropriate use of sacred spaces.
This month, my husband and I are again students for a continuing education course at Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora, where we live. It is a bittersweet experience. This seminary is situated in a beautiful natural setting with lush lawns, an abundance of wildlife and peaceful woods, surrounded by the colorful hills of Western New York. The stunning chapel is a centerpiece of the campus.
On so many occasions we have attended solemn and uplifting liturgical ceremonies, heard provocative speakers, shared retreat experiences and meals with high school students, and participated in enriching courses. I cannot imagine the sense of loss that the many priests, deacons, sister and lay ministers who lived and studied on these sacred grounds must feel.
The campus has been a sacred space in our midst that we took for granted. Now the time has come for this holy ground to be handed over to a new owner. With luck, the campus will be turned over to a religious denomination and remain a place of worship, study and serenity – a quiet oasis of refreshment and renewal of spirit. To be honest, I for one, truly hope that this most special place in the heart of our community will not be carved up into a few pricey “McMansions.” The decision is certainly not mine to make. In this non-peaceful and increasingly chaotic world, let us place a real value on all the sacred spaces around us. Let us not surrender them too easily for a few “pieces of gold.”
Barbara E. Ochterski misses her old place of worship.