From Sanctuary Coordinator, Dave Ruffin

Dear Sanctuary Boston,

What a meaningful and moving experience it was to share the unrestrained embrace at the heart of Sanctuary with thousands at the annual General Assembly of the UUA in Providence. The hunger for the kind of worship and community life we treasure, and the gratitude for the chance to experience this with us was so clear. And we didn’t just bring a “Sanctuary style” to Providence, we brought Sanctuary— our vulnerability and need, as well as our strength, beauty and open-hearted enthusiasm. I know that so many moments we shared—from belting ‘San Francisco’ before thousands at the Dunk, to “behind the scenes” laughs, tears, honest sharing, deep breaths— will stick with me, as I imagine with the rest of the team, for some time to come.

Those of us who were able to be there wish we could have shared all of our experiences with the wider community – including our absolutely packed, sweaty, joyous, opening young adult worship about the “quiet revolution” of change that starts with acknowledging our own need, which rocked till past midnight and prompted one participant who’d been at GA professional programing for a couple days already to share that it was the first time they didn’t feel alone in Providence– Or the amazing worship workshop celebrating the “free embrace” we’ve embraced in creating Sanctuary, which we shared with hundreds the following morning and which did indeed leave us holding each other a little tighter. Participants were clapping in the isles and asking if we could make it to… Vermont, California, Connecticut, Florida. They even inquired if we would accept a spontaneous cash offering (the answer was yes). It was quite the affirmation that we’ve got some pretty darn good news to keep building on and keep sharing (any interested road trippers out there?). But, though we can’t quite re-create all our experiences, we’re super pumped that we actually CAN, at least virtually, share the final big Witness Worship with you all, as many of you may already have seen via Facebook. If you haven’t checked out that video link yet, you can find it HERE.

I’m actually writing you all now, though, here in the midst of summer and a brief worship hiatus, and sending my words to you all the way from Australia where I’m visiting family, to share news of a decision I recently made which affects our community. In the midst of all the final preparations for GA and year-end Sanctuary and First Church in Boston transitions, I was unexpectedly offered a position that, after a great deal of reflection, I discerned to be the right next move for me. Just a few days before General Assembly, I accepted Rev. Marlin Lavanhar’s invitation to come and serve All Souls in Tulsa, OK in a 10-month ministerial residency.

All Souls is celebrated for many reasons from its sheer size (the largest UU congregation) to its multicultural community growth, to its outstanding ministry team. It’s been particularly pioneering  in its embrace of a diverse range of creative community/ministry expression, all based in a UU congregational setting –something about which I’ve held a lot of wonder. Despite recognizing All Souls as what many trusted mentors affirmed it to be, a learning opportunity I could hardly pass up, I wrestled immensely with the prospect of stepping away from Sanctuary, especially at this key point of potential for new growth (in breadth and depth), and so suddenly. As most of you know well, Sanctuary has never been anything close to just a job for me, or an internship, but a work of love and faith, with community member/co-creators akin to a family, bonded in bringing something new to life for nearly two years now. And, in many ways, it still feels as if we’ve only just begun. How could I leave now?!

But with honest reflection, it became clear to me that the opportunity for this personal development was really what I needed in the longer arch of my ministry journey. In order to give all that I can to communities like Sanctuary in the years to come, there’s much more I want to learn from leaders and communities that are presently thriving. Though I knew leaving Sanctuary would be personally very hard, acknowledging this need for further learning left me only the question of whether the community could navigate this sudden leadership change. Here, though I don’t say this with illusions of ease, the answer was clearly yes.

There is a fair bit that is unclear about the way forward, but what is not unclear is that Sanctuary is a community –a beautiful, powerful, healing, and life-giving community of many hearts and voices. As a community we’ve living into our collective capacity to offer the love, inspiration and support that we’re increasingly open with one another about needing. Strong committed leadership has been and will continue to be vital, but Sanctuary is quite clearly NOT, in this way, dependent on any one individual. Co-creation of Sanctuary is so deep in our fabric it hardly needs naming. But a founder’s departure is as good a time as any to remind us of what really holds us together (hint – think Matt Maher …yeah, and pretty much every other song we sing at Sanctuary).

My last worship with Sanctuary is planned for September 4th. I hope to see many of you there to celebrate the beginning of another year, as well as to say goodbyes— or at least farewells. As this is not quite yet time for parting, I’ll hold off on trying to articulate my personal gratitude to and affection for this community… this message is long enough as it is! But I look forward to sharing some reflections with you when we worship together in September. And, whatever exact form my relationship takes with Sanctuary into the future, I will remain a devoted community sustainer, advocate and personal fan of you all.

On a more practical note, keep an eye out for forthcoming opportunities to engage in important transitional conversations taking place over the summer, and likely into the fall. If ever there was a time in our journey together thus far for the people who’ve been shaping this community to step forward into even greater ownership and leadership, this is it!

It is hard to imagine the chapter-ending and accompanying goodbyes shortly to come, but I’ve truly experienced us as tapping into something that goes with you wherever you go. So I take heart in trusting I’ll take Sanctuary with me, even to the wild plains of Oklahoma (yeow!), as well as in the incredible privilege of sensing that I’ve helped create something that will continue offering Sanctuary long past my departure, even to many I may never personally meet. Quite a thing…

This with much love,

Yours –Dave