Macedonian Ministry welcomes pastors from throughout our program to contribute to our weekly articles. This week, our thanks to Rev. Cassandra Henderson of The Breakthrough Fellowship and MM Atlanta 4 cohort member, for her reflection.
“But now more than ever the word about Jesus spread abroad; many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray” (Luke 5:15-16 NRSV)
One of the most valuable spaces I have ever received from a church was the space to grieve particularly because my grief took me away from the church. As bizarre as it may seem, after a season of compounded loss, I needed space—sacred space—that could not be found inside of a church building. I needed space to hurt without a quick-fix scripture to negate my experience and suppress my heartache. I needed space to cry with snot and sobs and screams that echoed into the vast wide open. I needed space to weep until my voice gave out and my tears ran dry. I needed space void of structure on Sunday mornings that allot 10 min. for praise and worship and leave no time to lament our individual struggles. I needed space to be angry with God and to wrestle with God’s will and timing because it didn’t align with the life I imagined I would live. I needed space to be alone with God for however long it took even if the season’s extended stay was beyond the comfort zone of others. I…needed…space. I needed sacred space away from the church building, away from my place of my employment, away from the territory of my calling. I needed to turn off and turn back to God in a way that can only be had outside of the “four walls” we’ve built and the 90 min we commit countless hours of preparation to each week.
This is what I needed, but what request can be more insulting than to ask for sacred space away from the very place we’ve claimed to be the ultimate location to encounter God?
At a time when churches seem to be losing members in droves, and church leaders are campaigning and strategizing for new screens, more pews, larger space, and cutting edge technology in hopes of “wowing” the people to church—ahem, I mean to God, I expected a resounding “no” from the senior pastor at my request for 4 weeks off. After all, I am a children’s and youth pastor and that demographic is how we get the parents into the pews. In smaller churches, like the one I serve in, this correlation between kids and grown-ups tends to be even more amplified. So, I held my breath and braced myself for his rejection. To my surprise, he gave me 6 weeks off instead. I am still baffled by and utterly grateful for his decision, but I recognize that his response is an exception more than the rule. More often than not, we become so centered on getting people into the church’s physical space that the need for life space is seen as a sacrilege rather than a sacrament. In many ways it seems as though the church has become an idol, and we, its leaders and people, have forgotten that God’s preferred dwelling place (at least in much of the New Testament) hasn’t traditionally been found in a sanctuary, but rather in the hearts and lives of God’s faithful people.
But what do we do with this in a practical sense? It seems preposterous to suppose that everyone should get 6 weeks off. The church’s upkeep and ministry support are priorities that require the tithes, talents and time and of its members and leaders. How do we find a healthy balance in stewarding the church building and developing the church body in a way that honors both and remembers that its leaders are part of the body too? How do we prioritize life space and worship space as equally essential sacred spaces needed for our continued growth as the body of Christ? I struggle to find answers to these questions, but I am convinced that there are some take-aways in the actions of my church’s pastor.
First, is the reminder that sacred space isn’t just what church leaders create for congregants and parishioners. Sacred space is not only stained-glass windows, tiered seating, age-appropriate decorated rooms, throw pillows and bean bag chairs, it is also the space we give for the uninhibited move of the Holy Spirit in and through our human experience—an experience shared by leaders and members. Second, is the recognition that Children’s and Youth Pastors are pastors too. That there is a heavy burden that comes with being tasked to develop future generations of the faith by bearing the weighted responsibility of creating transforming lessons that make the mystery of God and the requirements of our faith simple enough for the potty-training toddler to understand, relevant enough the high school graduate to find their identity and stirring enough to minister to the adult staff in the room. Last but not least, in the midst of all of the “to do’s” that the church requires, life and death happen in the lives of church leaders too in ways that the church may not be able to healthfully handle. So, like the messiah we strive to model our lives after, we must have and create the space to go off to be alone with God.
Rev. Cassandra Henderson, Pastor for BTKids + Student Ministries, The Breakthrough Fellowship & Macedonian Ministry Atlanta 4 Cohort Member.
Rev. Henderson is the Pastor for BTKids + Student Ministries at The Breakthrough Fellowship in Smyrna, GA. Prior to that, she served as the Assistant Pastor at the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, spiritual home of the Civil Rights trailblazer, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. During her tenure at Ebenezer, Rev. Henderson also served as the Pastor for Children’s & Youth Ministries providing for the spiritual formation for all of the young people ages 1-18.
Rev. Henderson has a particular passion for ministering in and to the people and communities in the margins. She has served in low-income and high-risk/at-risk/in-risk areas, as well as in juvenile hall and adult penitentiaries on the east and west coasts. She serves as a volunteer chaplain at Lee Arrendale State Prison, and is active in the interfaith community as a member of the Board of Directors for the Interfaith Children’s Movement in Atlanta, GA. In addition, Rev. Henderson has been recognized for her prophetic witness, and was awarded the John W. Rustin Award for preaching and the Berta & James T. Laney Award for ministry.
Rev. Henderson is passionate about sharing the word of God through preaching and teaching persons of all ages and from all walks of life. She is interactive and engaging her approach that appeals to intergenerational and multi-racial congregations. Her heart is truly for God and God’s people, a deep love that is evident in her ministry in the church and in the world.