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A Church That Trusts in God: Presidential Address to the Council of Bishops

The Basement and the Sanctuary

I can still remember the day, a few years ago now. It was an unbearably hot summer day in the deep south of the U.S. Our life’s possessions were in a van, spilling over into a couple of cars and a friend’s truck. We were in the process of moving into the parsonage of the church to which I had been assigned. At some point late in the day I walked across the street to the church’s sanctuary; someone had entrusted me with the keys. It was a beautiful space, quiet and peaceful, serene and orderly. I stopped for a moment. Then I made my way through a door, and turned left and then went down some stairs, into a little room, a basement, underneath. It was crowded and dark, scary and disordered. Every church, I suppose, has a place of beauty, for public worship. And every church, I suppose, has a place of storage, an out of the way place, usually underneath everything else and harder to find. In fact, most people don’t even know that it’s there. I thought about that basement as I read the 130th Psalm. “Out of the deep have I called unto you O Lord”…. And just as there are depths in buildings, there are deep places in our lives as well. This is not the poetry of the quiet and peaceful, the serene and orderly. The psalm really is a cry from the depths, from all that is crowded and dark, scary and disordered in our own lives. Psalm 130 is a word that goes all the way down, to where we live. Some of us, I imagine, have been there. To be depressed is to be pushed down. To be discouraged is to have a deficit of spirit. To be deflated is to have all of the wind taken out of our sails. We have all been in the basement and in a sanctuary. As bishops, think of the moment you were elected, and escorted before a group of people who had just affirmed your call to this office. Think of the moment you knelt and placed your hand on a Bible and someone you had admired and respected laid hands on you and said something encouraging to you. Those are holy moments. Stay there for a minute. We have all been in that sanctuary.