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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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