Sanctuary at dinner church, monthly pub talks


1001 new worshiping community creating home for people who have said ‘no’ to church

By Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

Ed Nusser (right) says Sanctuary attracts millennials who have sworn off church, because having a spiritual conversation over food and beer —“is very different than sitting in a church pew.” Michael Fitzer/Film 180

PITTSBURGH – The Rev. Laura Bentley, pastor of Sanctuary Faith Community, felt called to be a pastor — but she had the best pastoral conversations sitting at bars with people over food and beer.

While listening to people, the 1001 new worshiping community leader noticed how isolated they felt, so she started a weekly gathering around meals in her home — for rest, for space to wrestle with spirituality and to learn about Jesus.

Eventually those meals turned into a weekly dinner church and a monthly spiritual and theological conversation venue at a local pub.

“We’re having conversations with people who have kind of said ‘no’ to church,” says Sanctuary task force member Ed Nusser. “But they’re still looking for community, for that sense of belonging to something outside of this institutional structure that the baby-boomer generation had.”

Katherine Honbostel, an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh, came to Sanctuary having experienced “the darker side of the church.” She grew up in Houston in a male-dominated congregation in which women’s voices were not heard.

“It was hard growing up like that,” she says. “I’m a strong, ambitious woman. Having a space to recover spiritually has been amazing for me.”

Jason Dauer has also experienced a sense of peace at Sanctuary. Having spent most of his life in conservative spaces, he immediately felt welcome at dinner church and at the monthly pub talks.

“For me as a gay person, this is one of the first spaces where I can exist,” he says, “and not be the conversation topic all the time where I have to defend myself.”

Bentley encourages those coming to Sanctuary to live out the life of Jesus in their own lives — by abiding in his life.

“We do this, I think, by loving our neighbors, sharing meals laying down our privilege to love other people, resting and cultivating real friendship,” she says.

The Presbyterian Mission Agency has supported Sanctuary with Mission Program Grants — which are made available through Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries. These grants support new worshiping communities and mid council’s work to transform existing churches.

In 2012, the 220th General Assembly of the PC(USA) declared a commitment to a churchwide movement that results in the creation of 1001 worshiping communities over the next 10 years. At a grassroots level, hundreds of diverse new worshiping communities have already formed across the nation.

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