Welcome to Big Old Goofy World . . . a place where I can share my thoughts, hopes, and dreams about this rock that we live on and call home.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

When Sacred Space Dies

I can be guilty of nostalgia . . . ask the wife . . . ask the kids . . . ask just about anyone I know, and they will tell you I can get nostalgic.  To be nostalgic is to have a “bittersweet longing for persons, places, things, or situations of the past.”  Nostalgia hit me today . . . thanks to an article I came across on a Facebook page for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)—this is the denomination that I was ordained into the ministry and have faithfully served for 30 years.  The article was by Bruce Barkhauer from the Center for Faith and Giving—the stewardship arm of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  You can read the article here: http://www.centerforfaithandgiving.org/StewardshipQA/tabid/756/EntryId/81/Right-sizing-and-Stewardship.aspx.

It has been said that if the writer wants to engage the reader, he or she must grab the attention of the reader . . . shock the reader into wanting to read beyond the first sentences.  Mr. Barkhauer did just that when he wrote: Lexington Theological Seminary has announced that it is selling its buildings and land to the University of Kentucky.  I must admit, that got my attention. 

I am a graduate of Lexington Theological Seminary . . . Class of 1983.  Until I read that sentence, I was unaware that the seminary where I shed blood, sweat, and tears to earn a theological degree . . . jumped the hoops to earn ordination . . . was closing its physical doors and pursuing a more modern and technological form of theological education.  Oh sure, I knew that the seminary had shifted over to the Internet for most of its degree programs, but I never, ever, thought that the actual physical space it occupied would be sold.  It is being sold to the University of Kentucky—its long time neighbor across the street.  With its selling, the seminary—the sacred ground—is being phased out . . . is disappearing . . . is going to be gone.  For me, it was a shock and sad day.
In the article the author mentions a recent discussion with a former student of his who conveyed a deep sense of loss about the seminary being sold.  He stated that she expressed frustration, but the reality of it all was that she was grieving.  I am not sure that I am grieving . . . haven’t gotten to that stage yet because I am still in shock.  I am shocked that a sacred space . . . a holy place . . . a cairn in my life . . . is going to be gone.  How is one supposed to react or act when a sacred space dies?

I have written before about the sacred spaces in our lives and how, like Jacob, we mark them on the timelines of our lives.  We erect those “markers” which remind us of the importance . . . the holiness . . . the sacredness . . . of those places in our lives.  Now, I know, that many of these do not actually entail actual markers . . . stone markers, and that most of them are erected in our hearts and minds; but Lexington Theological Seminary—LTS has always been a physical marker in my journey.  An actual place that I could point to . . . that I could identify . . . I could show to my children and begin to tell stories.  How does one do that when the space . . . the sacred space . . . has been sold to a bunch of Wildcats?

I entered LTS as a wide-eyed, ignorant, scared, wannabe who knew nothing of ministry . . . very little of the great cloud of witnesses . . . and, wondering what in the world was I doing in a place for theological and religious studies.  I was a fish out of water when I entered seminary.  Yet, God works in mysterious ways . . . I made friends with other similar individuals . . . I learned more about God, myself, and the intricate dance of love the two of us were boogying to . . . I met my wife . . . and, I dreamed.  I dreamed about what ministry could be . . . what it meant to follow God’s call . . . and, I was lucky enough to be guided through that journey by wonderful mentors and teachers.   I stepped into that long ecclesiogical line of tradition . . . that holy line . . . and became a part of something that was bigger than me and stretched way, way back to another time and place.  I became one of the family . . . and, now the ol’ homestead had been sold.

The article did not state what the University of Kentucky plans to do with the space . . . whether or not they plan on renovating the property and land . . . or, if they plan on tearing it down and erecting new structures for higher education.  All that is known for certain is that after 177 years, LTS is about to become something different . . . it is stepping into the 21st century and attempting to meet the changing needs of a “church” that is in the midst of a great transformation.  As the author writes in his article, this is not a matter of nostalgia, but a matter of good stewardship.

There is nothing worse than being confronted by sound thinking . . . I must admit that the thinking behind the sale of LTS is sound, smart, and the right direction to go.  I only wish it had been one of the other seminaries leading the change . . . you know, Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis or Brite Divinity School in Texas or Phillips in Okalahoma . . . I never imagined in a million years (that is not an exaggeration) that LTS would be the first one to disappear off the map.  Oh, the shock of it all!

It has been a long, long time since I have been back to LTS . . . probably longer than it should be.  Yet, in my mind, it seems as if I was only there yesterday.  I remember the convocations, chapel services, classes, and ping pong down in the recreation room.  I remember those snickering sessions in the library with Roscoe . . . or Fig getting upset when someone’s watch signaled the end of a class . . . or Dave sharing about the “talk” with his sons (“Think with the big head, not the little.”) and laughing for days at the simplicity and truth of that statement.  I remember those basketball games . . . sledding parties . . . trips to the Lost Armidillo . . . Dr. Graham in his rocker . . . and, all of those late nights shared by classmates.  I remember the holiness, not of the chapel, but of the quietness of the library . . . the sun setting over the buildings . . . the gospel music of the church across the street from the little black church.  I remember the support and love of classmates as we all struggled to make it to another day . . . another semester . . . to graduation.  Now, that space is gone . . . at least it is gone as Lexington Theological Seminary.

And, I know that I am not the only one who feels that way . . . there are those generations of LTS graduates before me.  They, too, carry with them their own memories of that sacred space.  How is one to handle such a loss once the shock has worn off?  I don’t know.  I really don’t know . . . that is one of those questions best casted to God . . . bread upon the water.  All I do know is that the world in which God has set us all is quickly changing.  Sometimes those changes are for the good, and sometimes they throw us into the darkness; but through them all, God is with us.

The land upon which Lexington Theological Seminary sits . . . is gone.  The buildings in which I spent three long years . . . living, studying, playing, dreaming, and realizing . . . are gone.  Yet, the assurance is that Lexington Theological Seminary is not tied to a place . . . is not tied to a marker or cairn . . . it is not a sacred place only to be found in a certain place . . . it is something more . . . something deeper.  I think that Jesus spoke about this when he talked about the presence of God in one’s life . . . it is a way of life . . . a way of living . . . a way of doing things.  The selling of the property was the right thing to do.  It was good stewardship.  It was a good call after much discernment and prayer . . . it was following God’s call.  The times they are a changing and LTS is changing with the times.  It is not a place, that can be found out there in the so-called real world . . . it is a place within the heart.  Any LTS grad would tell you that.  Yeah, the sacred space has died in the world around us, but it lives on within our hearts . . . passed on by each generation of those who found LTS to be the path to serving God.  It will continue . . . but, the place—the sacred place will be missed.  Shalom, my old friend . . . shalom . . . wholeness and holiness.  Amen.

1 comment:

Erin said...


I tried to post this last week, but it must have gotten lost in cyber space. Trying again:

Thank you so much for your words and your stories and your memories. We here at LTS want to honor all of that as we move forward.

Dr. Wayne Bell, former President here at LTS, reminded us recently that LTS has only been in this space for 63 of our nearly 150 years. Yes, 63 years is a long time, but the institution has spent more time NOT residing at 631 S. Limestone than it has spent calling this piece of land home. Dr. Bell joined us as we moved the first time and he will watch us move the second (and hopefully the third). The time for LTS to occupy this space is gone, yes, but we will continue to occupy physical space.

The current plan is to lease space for a few years (possibly 5) while we figure out where we want our next permanent home to be. LTS will always be here - for you, for our students, for our dear friends and neighbors. We will continue to be a presence in the Lexington community and a voice in the Disciples family.

When this property was built, it was built for 250 students - a size we haven't seen in decades. You're right that we can be good stewards by selling this space to our neighbors who desperately need it and creating a space for ourselves that fits who we are now and who we plan to be in the future. God has always called us to be a people on the move, but even as those moving people we have longed for a tie to place. My prayer for you and for other alumni is that you'll be able to call the "new" LTS home, as well.

I understand; I really do! My alma mater was forced to tear down crumbling buildings that had stood for over 150 years just after I graduated. In their place now stand buildings that are modern and sleek, looking nothing like the historic school I attended. But the change was necessary. It hurt - it still does a little when I see it - because I have so many memories tied up in those places that I can no longer see with my eyes.

But memory doesn't need the eyes; memory uses the heart.

My prayer is that you'll find wholeness and holiness in the new space, too.

Again, thank you for sharing your story with us. We cherish these types of reflections. Our doors are always open if you want to come see us - the physical ones!

Grace and Peace during this transition,
Rev. Erin Cash
Director of Admissions
Lexington Theological Seminary