On Tuesday, June 23, more than four hundred people gathered in the GLIDE Sanctuary to remember, to grieve, to act, in response to the deadly shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Church that left 9 people dead and the nation’s soul shattered. It was a somber moment, as we sat silently together as the evening’s shadows lengthened. One at a time, each victim’s name was announced, a candle was lit, a brief bio was read, and then a ringing of bell punctuated the otherwise still Sanctuary.
“Sanctuary” is defined as “a place of safety or refuge”. One definition went so far as to say, “immunity afforded by refuge in such a place.” For African Americans, the Black Church has been the center of empowerment, where the confines of racism could be removed so lives, families and communities could thrive. Birthed out of segregation, when blacks were sent to the balcony (or even out the door) of white churches, the Black Church has played a critical role in the Civil Rights movement. This has not gone unnoticed to white supremacists. Black churches are all-too-often their targets, seeking to squelch the power and possibilities of liberation and freedom that the Black Church offers.
On Tuesday night, we at GLIDE came together. Our groans that were once “sighs too deep for words” were breathed out. Our tears fell. We held on to each other for comfort. We experienced Sanctuary.
But our time together didn’t end there: as the vigil ended, we turned to acts of resistance, which is also what Sanctuary offers. In a place of safety, one has the space to imagine a better world. Those who gathered on Tuesday went from one Action Station to another, writing letters of condolences to the Emanuel AME congregation, creating squares for a quilt that will be sent to the church, creating signs of protest, hope and solidarity, writing to South Carolina legislators to take down the Confederate flag, and coming together to dream other acts of resistance and justice-making so that we can challenge and dismantle the systems and institutions that continue to foster racism.
This is what we do at GLIDE—we don’t run to the sanctuary to hide from life’s harshness. We come together to face it honestly, with open hearts. In the Sanctuary community, we find strength as well as companions who will help us face the future with hope. In the safety of Sanctuary, we challenge one another to live into the dream of love and justice we experience together.
Together, we dream a world where the chains of racism, sexism, classism, ableism, heterosexism, and all other oppressive –isms are broken, so that every person can live safe, free, unfettered lives. We dream a time when the whole world becomes a Sanctuary…
— Reverend Karen Oliveto, Pastor