This Sunday we will begin a seven-week worship series called “Voices Together and the Worlds Worship Creates.” Here is an article I recently wrote for Anabaptist World magazine related to this:
This fall our congregation plans to do a worship series in which we take a closer look at our new hymnal, Voices Together. Hybrid in-person and Zoom worship is not ideal for this. Although we can’t all be in the same room, we can use the hymnal to explore the meaning of worship and the ways heritage and innovation continue to form a living faith.
My experience of a worship text is enriched by knowing the story behind it. One of the new pieces in Voices Together has a story especially familiar to our congregation. I tell it here in the hopes of enriching your worship experience, and to give an invitation.
On October 2, 2017 Edith Espinal moved into our church building. Despite living in the US for 20 years she had recently lost her asylum court case, been given a deportation order, and been ordered to report to ICE, Immigration Customs Enforcement, for removal to Mexico. She would be separated from her husband and three children, two of them US citizens. Rather than be deported, Edith was one of many around that time who sought sanctuary in a church building, enabling her to continue advocating for her case from a location ICE had pledged not to enter.
As our congregation adapted to being a sanctuary church one member suggested writing a prayer in English and Spanish that could become part of our weekly worship. We called it “The sanctuary prayer.” It acknowledged God as our ultimate sanctuary, drew a wide circle around who is our neighbor, and asked that our own lives be defined by courage, peace, and justice.
God our sanctuary
and our neighbors
near and far
courage in our hearts
peace in our homes
and justice in our streets. Amen
Dios nuestro santuario
concédenos a nosotros
y a nuestros vecinos
cercanos y lejanos
valentía en nuestros corazones,
paz en nuestros hogares
y justicia en nuestras calles. Amén.
We continued to pray this prayer throughout Edith’s time in sanctuary. During this period it was selected for inclusion in the worship resources of the new hymnal and appears as VT 1042.
On February 18 of this year, 2021, Edith was finally allowed to leave sanctuary without threat of deportation. She still checks in monthly with ICE, but can now live with her family and recently received her work permit. We are overjoyed with her and prayerful that she will someday be granted permanent resident status.
Edith was in sanctuary for 1235 days. The story behind VT 1042 is well-summarized in that other number: 1235. It’s a long time, nearly three and a half years, to be praying for freedom.
On Sunday, October 3, the four year anniversary weekend of her first entering sanctuary, our congregation will dedicate this piece in the hymnal with a “1235” sticker next to VT 1042. If it would help you remember the story of Edith and all the others for whom this prayer was written, you are invited to do the same whenever it best suits you.