On June 1st, twenty priests gathered around St. John’s Episcopal Church in downtown Washington D.C. to offer water, snacks and hand sanitizer to those demonstrating and denouncing police brutality after the death of George Floyd. These priests were among those tear-gassed and forcibly removed from the area so President Trump could walk across LaFayette Square and have his photo taken in front of St. John’s—holding a bible as a prop.
There are different kinds of Christians. The kind who surround President Trump, praying over him in the Oval Office and celebrating his bible photo op, get a lot of media attention. I wish more attention would be paid those who are in the streets, among the people and the pain.
I was excited, then, to be asked to read and review Heidi Neumark’s new book, Sanctuary: Being Christian in the Wake of Trump. Neumark’s the real deal. Her ministry among the people of New York City, first in the South Bronx and currently at Trinity Lutheran in Manhattan, is inspiring. Neumark is one of my favorite writing pastors. Her first book, Breathing Space: A Spiritual Journey in the South Bronx, was assigned in one of my Doctor of Ministry classes and I’ve been reading and following her ever since.
Each chapter of Sanctuary begins with a quote of Trump’s that Neumark counters and resists through stories of welcome and inclusion from her church’s ministry. From turning their basement into a shelter for homeless, LGBTQ youth to memorializing transgender women murdered in the United States to sending their bilingual pastor to the border to serve as a translator for families seeking understanding and refuge, this book is chock full of stories any church or pastor can use to encourage a bold and faithful ministry.
In her postscript, Neumark shares that her denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, was the first to officially declare itself a Sanctuary Church. Neumark hopes this book will contribute to the conversation about how this commitment might be lived out and how sanctuary spaces can be multiplied among us. If you’re looking for a book to remind you of the good work Christians can and are doing in the world, I recommend Sanctuary to you.