Your Sanctuary Misses You (A letter)

I miss you a lot – I miss the organ
vibrating under my floor,
an anthem that tickles the ceiling.
I miss being splashed with baptism,
the grit of rice,
the weight of the casket
when you let a loved one go.

I miss the smell of bread cut in
small-enough-everyone-eats pieces.
I miss people leaning over pew or chair back
to say “peace” or “hello,”
or smile at a child.

I even miss prickly poinsettias,
lilies that make me sneeze,
and the time it rained
and animals came inside to be blessed.

Puppy piddle or hot wax
from those little candles?
It doesn’t matter ­ – I miss you.

But, while you care for one another
by being away  …
(well, you’d know I exaggerate
if I promised
to self-dust the hymnals),

I do promise to archive in my heart
every song you’ve sung and all the voices,
even ones who only came here once,
even those who pretend to sing.

The pulpit has endured preacher spit
and watching congregations doze,
but it will store
all that justice and comfort.

Even if you re-model me someday,
or put me on a flatbed
and roll me down the street,
even if … I burn down,
all of the memories will be
in this ground and all the sky,
(some photographs to make you cry)
and lives changed,
lots of lives changed forever.

Now before I go on too long,
like a wandering sermon
or a flat note held –
and this is really a Christmas card,

I want you to remember this –
your loving sanctuary was never the manger,
or the field outside Bethlehem,
or an oasis under a star,
though pageants, carols,
and those drippy little candles
might confuse you.

I’m just the inn,
and my job is to say to you –
and everyone else –
I am full (of many good things),
but go around back
to the stable in your heart
and there you will find the child
with Mary and Joseph
and the sweet mash-up
of woolies, camels and angel host.

That’s why I miss you most.
A sanctuary can store a lot of hay –

but you are the manger.

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27 Responses to Your Sanctuary Misses You (A letter)

  1. Jessica McArdle says:

    “I’m just the inn…but you are the manger.” Yes, amen!

  2. Arnetta A Jones says:

    What a beautiful picture you paint with your words. Thank you so much.

  3. I first saw this this morning in my FB feed. I teared up. I have closed churches that have then been razed as an interim, so this hits me is different ways. #bringon2021

  4. Coqui Conkey says:

    I love this. Thank you. I would like to use in my lessons and carols service and/or Christmas Eve. All virtual. All streamed on FB.

    Coqui Conkey

    On Sat, Dec 5, 2020, 3:41 AM Gifts in Open Hands wrote:

    > Maren posted: ” I miss you a lot – I miss the organvibrating under my > floor,an anthem that tickles the ceiling.I miss being splashed with > baptism,the grit of rice,the weight of the casketwhen you let a loved one > go. I miss the smell of bread cut insmall-enough-everyo” >

  5. beegood1 says:

    I miss seeing people and our church thx for sharing 🙏🙏

    Sent from my iPhone


  6. Elisa says:

    “You are the manger.” How lovely. (: xo

  7. Betsy S Webber says:

    This is beautiful, Maren…thank you!

  8. harrisonfw says:

    “You are the manger” is profound and I take it to mean the gathered body of Christ both as local community and collective whole, as each one of us carries Christ within our hearts. As the line in “O Little Town of Bethlehem” petitions “Be born in us today” – a recognition of the intimacy of “God With Us” and at the same time an awareness that He who is born and nurtured in us will go on to “give us second birth” (Hark! The Herald Angels Sing) and nurture us into becoming His sons and daughters, to His glory.

    There’s also this, from a text written by Martin Luther:

    O my dear heart, young Jesus sweet,
    Prepare thy cradle in my spirit,
    And I shall rock thee in my heart,
    And never more from thee depart.

    But I shall praise thee evermore,
    With sangis (songs) sweet unto thy glor(y),
    The kness of my heart shall I bow,
    And sing that rich Balulalow (lullaby).


  9. Rachel F Small Stokes says:

    This, with the burning of Middle Collegiate today. So beautiful and so hard.

  10. Laurie Rowan says:

    Thank you, Maren. Throughout this poem I was picturing all the events I’ve attended in our sanctuary over the last 40 year or so: weddings, funerals, baptisms, Christmas pageants with my own kids. I really do miss worshipping there, but seeing our services live streamed from it helps.

    • Maren says:

      Yes, it does a lot. It is interesting that if I were traveling to visit someone and went to Advent and Christmas services, I would not miss it neatly as much because I would know other people were there. It is really mourning it being closed.

  11. Linda Rackliffe says:


    That you for all your posts. They are inspirational, especially during this time. “Your Sanctuary Misses You” hits home while we are doing everything online. Would it be possible fo me to share this in the email Newsletter for the Chester Congregational Baptist Church?

    Again, thank for your words of inspiration.

    Have a blessed Advent and Christmas season.

    Rev. Linda J. Rackliffe

    Sent from my iPad


    • Maren says:

      Absolutely! I would be delighted. I preached my third sermon there in a summer of supplying before my first call to Malden Ma. Marnette O’Brien was the pastor … now that is a while ago! I would love for my words to visit.

  12. Helen Nablo says:


    Can I use this, crediting you of course, for one of our daily reflections?

    I really like this!

    Helen Nablo The Church of the Pilgrimage Plymouth, MA


  13. Maren says:

    I would be honored!

  14. Paula Ulrich says:

    Thank you. I, too, may use this for one of our special services this season, an on-line Service of Remembrance. And of course I will credit you with these thoughtful words that mourn our losses but proclaim truth and hope.

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