Thursday, March 09, 2006

Holy Space

I preached at the Central Prison of Yaounde last Sunday. They’ve made some interesting upgrades in the worship space since I’d last visited several months ago. The most striking change was the addition of a green curtain that hangs on shower rings from wooden poles that surround the perimeter of the courtyard where the service is held. There’s even a kind of “door to the church,” a break in the curtain through which the choir enters and leaves. Above the makeshift entrance is a small, stenciled banner which reads “Culte Protestant.”

The tin roof has also been extended to make the “sanctuary” bigger and thereby keep more prisoners out of the rain during that time of the year.

The effect of these changes is to mark a definitive space inside a desolate place, to draw boundaries and say, “This is where we will worship God.” And such a statement is radical in a place like Central Prison, where thousands of people are crammed into a city block. Space is a luxury, a jealously-guarded privilege. I’d never thought of space as a worship commodity, but the prisoners obviously treasure it. They lovingly erect the curtain every Sunday morning, arrange the benches, plug in a few cables for the sound system, and – presto! – they have a sanctuary, a respite from the putrid gray of the concrete around them.

What would be a more impressive sacrifice to God than the gift of one section of pavement carefully swept clean for two hours a week? What more could a prisoner offer?