Today’s Gospel reading recalls Mary and Joseph’s relatable parenting moment of losing track of their son. I empathize with the panic they must have felt searching for him through the hours. I also feel a recognizable relief mixed with anger they may have had upon finally finding their son in the temple, But Jesus is not worried, and casually responds, “Did you not know I must be in my Father’s house?” (Lk 2:49). This response seems to come naturally for Jesus. He even sounds perplexed as to why his parents were so concerned and afraid for him. He communicates the deep and abiding ease that he feels about the temple itself, as his Father’s house. Where else could he have possibly been? Why wouldn’t he be safe there?
The Church has been and still is that place of safety and comfort for many people. Throughout my life, it has been that for me, too, like the warm embrace of one’s familial home, whatever shape or space that family takes. Both church and home have been places of sanctuary, a word that means a place where something holy and sacred is kept.
At other times, however, especially for those in the LGBTQ+ community, churches or homes are anything but sanctuaries. For LGBTQ+ people, some churches’ tolerance of them might, at best, be paternalistic pity and, at worst, even amount to a sense of hostility. That a list of LGBTQ-friendly parishes even exists signals the very real, tragic implication that there are places where all are not welcome. What does it mean when such a place, the home or the church, no longer feels like a sacred and safe place to be?
I have been lucky in my life to only be exposed to churches where my identity has been accepted and my belonging is not in question. It is a deep blessing I have often taken for granted. I fear the day I walk into a church only to hear in some way that those in my community are not welcome there, that the parish community might believe that God in this case does not welcome me there in his home, his sanctuary. I imagine it must be painful when that is the nature of a parish where someone hopes to belong.
We pray that more church communities become places of love and acceptance so that, like a young Jesus, everyone can feel safe in the Father’s house. But when our churches fail to be a sanctuary, often our families, understood expansively, can provide support.
As I work to create my own home and have it be a place where my family feels belonging, sanctuary, and holiness I keep the reality of this challenge of our Church in mind. The Holy Family are the example to cherish and see ourselves in. Remember that the Holy Family themselves were not the standard or “normal” family either. Joseph stood with Mary even though there was no sense that Jesus was his son. They were refugees in their own right. As we create our own queer families and spaces of sanctuary, we, too, can see the Holy Family as a symbol of the same love in which we also share.
—Maka Black Elk, December 29, 2022