Building Green Pastures


A Sanctuary In A Field of Chaos Is Easily Threatened

by Eric Elkin

He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
— Psalm 23:2ff

While driving to church Sunday morning, I listened to a story on National Public Radio (NPR) about security in places of worship. Three different American religious leaders shared their approach to this growing concern. If the topic weren't so serious, one might think it an opening to a joke. A rabbi, an imam, and a pastor walk into a place of worship. Yet, when they walk in, there is no punchline, only a concern for safety.

Normally, I would consider a story like this an insight into the lives of other people. However, on this Sunday, it hit a little closer to home. One of our parishioners, whose son is a police officer, told me about a growing concern within law enforcement.  Local police districts are asking patrol squads to focus on churches every Sunday morning. 

A couple of weeks ago, a small group of protestors had gathered outside our church. They were condemning us for being a Reconciling Congregation. Those kinds of things used to be laughable, now we have to consider them a threat.

An African American pastor in Piscataway, NJ, shared how security was nothing new for her. Armed guards have been a part of Black churches, she said, for as long as she had been going to church. I had no idea this was a reality for anyone, and it left me feeling hollow.

Listening to the show, I thought about exit strategies for my own congregation. Where would I direct people to go if something happened? It was then I realized what the original design of our sanctuary said about the people who worshipped there. By design, our congregation was for the physically able. In making the building restrictive to all God's children, we ended up making it difficult to escape a crisis. 

Green pastures are before me, which yet I have not seen;
Bright skies will soon be o’er me, where the dark clouds have been.
My hope I cannot measure, my path to life is free,
My Savior has my treasure, and He will walk with me.
— Anna Laetitia Waring

One of the uplifting pieces of the show was a story about a mosque in Dallas, Texas. The staff at one of the larger Christian churches in Dallas trained the staff and volunteers in the mosque on how to provide security while still encouraging a sense of welcome. But even that is a hollow victory in a gloomy report.

Then I started thinking, maybe a commitment to providing security is our problem. For most of us, the only thing that matters is if life is good for me. If my neighbor is at risk, that is my neighbors' problem, not mine. Perhaps this mindset is actually making us more vulnerable to despair and hopelessness?

In Psalm 23, the psalmist does not present the idea of a green pasture as a suggestion. The psalm says, [the Lord] makes you lie down in green pastures." It rings of a command. If we, as a church, are the body of Christ, then building green pastures to restore the soul is our mission, not a location we hope to find.

In my experience, the most secure neighborhoods do not require armed patrols. They are the places where neighbors care for neighbors. When people care about the welfare of the person living next to them, life feels like a green pasture. One can barbecue outside as though eating by still waters. A sanctuary in a field of chaos is easily threatened. Yet, if those building the sanctuary see no walls, chaos has no place to dwell.


Click to read Psalm 23

Reflection Questions:

  • What is your distress this day?

  • Where is your green pasture of rest?

  • How often do you go there to find rest?

  • What can you do to build a green pasture in your neighborhood?

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