As I walked into the Sanctuary on Ash Wednesday, my soul stirred within me. Music was playing softly and the Sanctuary was nearly empty, except a few folks sitting quietly and a pastor willing to offer prayers. There were a few interactive opportunities: words to reflect upon, candles to light, stones to let go and sand to write your cares. But mostly, the room offered a place to sit and just be – for as long as I needed. It was a true sanctuary from the busyness of life – a place where my soul could breathe after being forced to hold it’s breathe for far too long. I was struck by my physical response to entering the sanctuary – here I was being offered something so precious, so necessary – something I hadn’t known I deeply needed: a place to chill. The realization struck me as holy – I needed a place to chill – even as it was being offered to me.
This idea of “a place to chill” had been presented to me last year by one of our young adults. We’ve been dreaming about how we can offer something significant to the participants of First Fridays, a festival held monthly in downtown Oakland. The street fair begins a block away from Oakland First Baptist, now Oakland Burmese Missionary Baptist Church, a magnificent sanctuary designed by Julia Morgan. First Fridays are a celebration of the arts, and of the community spirit of Oakland. The arts provide us an opportunity to connect deeply to the sacred within us and within one another. As we began to think of what this sanctuary could provide, our dreams brought us to a setting very much like what I encountered on Ash Wednesday.
We want to provide a place for people to chill for a while – a sanctuary from the busyness of life. We envision instrumental music, a welcoming atmosphere and a few interactive activities: community artwork that allows us to share of dreams for Oakland, spiritual reflections to ponder in this sacred space, information about the gorgeous building and the sacred stories portrayed in the stained glass, a celebration of Oakland history, and a minister to talk and pray with. All activities would be optional, and would appeal to different folks in different ways. The biggest invitation would be to just chill out in this sacred space – chill as individuals, families, friends – to celebrate arts and the sacred – to allow your soul to breathe. We are looking for folks who might help us bring our dream to reality in downtown Oakland. If you have any interest in partnering us, please let me know.