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Safe space

St. Matthew's, Binscarth MB. Some rights reserved (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0) by LMP+I am blessed in that I have a few places that are ‘safe space.’ They are places where I can go, and just be, whatever my mood. They are places where I know that I can go to, no matter what else is going on in my life, and I can just be. Whatever my mood: contemplative, quiet, feisty, sad, elated. However I am, in my safe space I can just be ME.

I think it is important – very important – to have such a space. We live such open lives, where it’s now normal for people to ask for/expect to have open access to every aspect of our lives. We expect to have our names run through a search engine when we apply for a new position, we know that everything we post – and have posted – online is there for the world to see. No questions are too personal to be asked; discussions of all manner of things can – and do – happen in public (even when they ought not be overheard by anyone else!) Our culture is one where we do need to exercise caution, and discretion, with all that we say or do. So to have a safe space is important, a place to not feel judged or critiqued or scrutinized.

And this is not simply a physical space, though that can sometimes be a component as well – ask anyone who has lived in a rectory or a company-owned home – they’re always on call. The space is a mental and spiritual one, where our true selves can exist without fear or trepidation or concern, instead our true selves can simply BE.

I’m blessed to have a number of these spaces, in the homes and companies of friends. These are places where it doesn’t matter if I’m having a bad hair day, or can’t articulate my thoughts. These are people who will let me rant, and challenge me on issues that are bothering me. These are environments where I know I can just come and be accepted for who I am – there won’t be embarrassing photos or a horrible out-of-context quote showing up on my socmed, there won’t be a criticism coming the day after a heartfelt conversation. These are places where laughter and tears are free to flow, where hugs are normal, where there is blatant acceptance and love.

These places do not just pop up, but come to be based on the time and effort put into building relationships. The connection with the people is what makes the place safe; the location is merely an extension of that. Folks aren’t looking for a way to put me down, rather they are offering an environment in which to help build me up. And, of course, with all healthy relationships, it goes both ways. As much as I trust these people and spaces, they equally trust me. It’s a good thing to have, it’s a healthy way to be, it’s something I think everyone should have.

It’s also something I think that the church should be – a safe space. The church is not just a building, it is the community gathered together in worship. As such, that whole community (on Sundays and on every other day) should be a safe space to one another, based on the relationships they have developed. Church should be a place where a person can walk in a stranger, and immediately feel that they are going to be welcomed for who they are, not judged by arbitrary (and usually unexpressed) expectations. Whether a person is feeling great and wants to share that joy, or is depressed and needing help, church should be a place where anyone – everyone – can come and know that they are welcome, they are part of the family, they are loved.

And this can only happen if church, as community, is a true gathering of Christ followers. Folks who are willing to cast aside the judgement and harshness of the secular world, and trust that others will do the same. Folks who will engage with one another around the common goal of loving and serving our Lord, instead of gossiping or criticizing. Folks who will really aim to seek out the Christ present in each and every person, rather than provide excuses for their emotional disconnect.

It’s not easy, to be sure, and it takes time and effort and trust. But if – when – it happens, it is a success. It means that the church has moved from a building to a community, from a service time to a place of service. It means that people have truly heard the message of the Gospel, and are living the Good News by being that safe space.

Would you consider your parish to be a safe space? How might it improve?

About Laura Marie Piotrowicz

I’m a high-energy priest, now serving in the Diocese of Niagara, catching glimpses of the kingdom in daily life. I consider church to be a verb, and I’m passionate about prayer, eco-theology, and social justice. I love travel, reading, canoeing, camping, gardening and cooking, playing with my dogs, and drinking good coffee.

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7 Responses to Safe space

  1. My wife and I joined our parish about a year ago… We couldn’t possibly ask for a warmer welcome. It’s gone far beyond simply a warm smile at the door and we are very grateful… If we could simply get more young people through the door to experience that sense of belonging, there would be no need to worry about the future of the Church in Canada.

  2. I agree that creating a healthy space within parish walls is essential. Yet, specifically regarding young people, my peers experience safe space, belonging, as well as excitement, risk, and adventure in countless places. Every bit of energy and intention that I put into holding space/dwelling for healing and refreshment ‘in church’ I match with intentional time spent ‘out of church’ doing the same together with the so called unchurched. I think the more comfortable and self-clarifying someone becomes bearing good news in the safe spaces existing outside of established parameters, the less she will be concerned about getting young people through the door, because the opportunities to come together faithfully will manifest organically and transcend all human made walls and doors.

  3. Safe space within the walls is important; it’s my hope that safe space exists within the church – the community – so walls or not it exists.
    I too spend a lot of time connecting with folks and building that safe space, outside the confines of the bricks and mortar.

  4. As someone who identifies as, and is open about being under the LGBTQ or queer umbrella safer spaces has a rather complex meaning. Is a church safe for me to even attend? This is even before being open about my various identities.

    One of the challenges that church and other communities face is defining what it means to have a safer space. If we are going to have, and be safer spaces as communities it will take a lot of work. We will need to change the proverbial light bulb that can’t be changed because it has always been that way.

    • Thanks for your openness, Talia. I hope that there IS a church where safe really means safe – for everyone who wishes to come through the doors. God willing we’ll come to be a worshiping community where we won’t have to even consider our identities beyond “beloved child of God”.
      And while it takes time, and effort, I’m hoping that light bulb can and will be changed- for the better. It’s part of what all of our ministry is about!

  5. I also believe that the churches should be safe places to seek and ask questions that lead to a fuller understanding of who God is and what He has done for us in Christ.It should be a place where we are nurtured and allow to grow in Christ.It should even be a safe place to fail which we will all do at some time in our Christian walk. It should also be a place where we are held accountable for our beliefs and our lifestyle.This is exampled by Paul in his dealing with people like Hymenaeus , Philetus and the man in Corinth. You can’t really have a family without nurturing and discipline,a family without discipline is not a safe place

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