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GRACE NOTES 8/16/14: Every church needs a red door

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By Nancy Kennedy

One day last week I heard some people on a podcast talking about celebrities’ lifestyle websites, like Gwenyth Paltrow’s “Goop.” 

Not being interested in what celebrities think I should buy/eat/wear/read, mostly all I heard was a bunch of blah blah blah — until someone said that in the 1990s Cher had a lifestyle catalog.

Not that I care about Cher’s catalog, but its name caught my attention: “Sanctuary.” For the rest of the week I thought about that word and its meaning.

Years ago, when a local Episcopal church built its new sanctuary, the bishop gave me a tour and pointed out the red doors. He said traditionally and historically, many churches had red front doors.

One reason is that red is symbolic of the blood of Jesus, our entry into salvation. Another reason, he said, is that historically, red church doors were a sign to people fleeing persecution or seeking political asylum that they could find a safe place there. As long as they stayed behind church doors, they couldn’t be touched.

The red door was a sign of sanctuary, of safety and refuge.

It’s said that during the Wars of the Roses — not to be confused with the “War of the Roses” movie with Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner, but the civil wars in medieval England — soldiers who were losing the battle would rush to the nearest church to hide out. Even enemies wouldn’t violate the red door; no one was allowed to harm or capture anyone inside a church. 

Ever since the bishop told me about red church doors, every time I see a church with one I think of “sanctuary” and of being safe.

Not all churches have red doors, but most churches have a sanctuary, whether it’s grand with high ceilings and rich wooden pews or a multipurpose room with basketball hoops at either end. A church sanctuary is its worship space, where the congregation meets with God.

Most churches have a sanctuary, but are they true sanctuaries where people can find a safe place?

Recently, my pastor read us the welcome message from another church:

“We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, filthy rich, dirt poor, yo no habla Ingles. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying new-borns, skinny as a rail or could afford to lose a few pounds.

“We welcome you if you can sing like Andrea Bocelli or like our pastor who can’t carry a note in a bucket. You’re welcome here if you’re ‘just browsing,’ just woke up or just got out of jail. …  We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. 

“We welcome soccer moms, NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like ‘organized religion.’ We’ve been there too.

“If you blew all your offering money at the dog track, you’re welcome here. …  We welcome those who are inked, pierced or both. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid or got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake. We welcome tourists, seekers and doubters, bleeding hearts — and you!”

That’s a red-door church. My church is a red-door church.

This past weekend my pastor spoke about the church being a community that demonstrates the love of God. He said, “When you experience the radical acceptance of God, you give it to others, you cut people slack. It’s about Jesus loving us so well that we love others.”

Not that we celebrate each other’s sin, but we welcome fellow sinners dearly loved by the Father because of grace, standing with and walking with each other as God changes us and makes us better. 

As a church, we don’t love perfectly, but we do seek to love as we have been loved and forgive as we have been forgiven.

Not every church is a safe place, but every church should be. Every church should be a sanctuary, a place where the only requirement to enter is a desire to come in. 

Maybe if more churches had red doors, more people would come. Better yet, maybe if more churches offered true sanctuary, the color of the door wouldn’t matter.

Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria — I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at 352-564-2927 or via email at nkennedy@chronicleonline.com.