This data was last updated on 14 August 2020.
Mission: “Whether you go to church on Sunday morning or light candles on Friday nights, whether you’ve been hurt by religion, saved by it, or some of both, whether you’re brand new to spiritual community, or a seasoned seeker, you are welcome.”
History: In 2012, Sanctuary Boston started out as a program of the Unitarian Universalist First Church in Boston. The founders happened to be affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist (UU) community, but Sanctuary Boston was not intentionally created as a UU organization; in fact, it was founded in part to challenge some of the Protestant-leaning tendencies of UU congregations. The founders considered holding worship in local parks or bars—places where they could use music to bring emotion to the body in a way that pushed the boundaries beyond more “intellectual” sermons. From the beginning, a central part of nurturing Sanctuary Boston has involved negotiating its relationship with UU communities and practices. Sanctuary Boston differs from UU congregations in a number of ways: it lacks formalized membership, centers music in worship, and actively seeks to disrupt the norms of typical Protestant services. Yet, Sanctuary Boston continues to draw inspiration and connection with their UU partners in their shared tradition of cutting against the grain.
Description: Today, Sanctuary Boston meets every other Wednesday evening, alternating meeting spaces between First Church in Boston and First Parish Cambridge. They have a collaborative relationship with these parishes but operate as their own independent non-profit. Music, a major founding element of Sanctuary Boston, takes up most of the worship session. Various community members play instruments or lead the group in communal singing, and participants are all welcome to dance or move their bodies as they feel moved to. Sanctuary Boston engages the power of music to transform the spirit. On a given night at Sanctuary Boston, participants might join each other in singing anything from spirituals to traditional UU hymns to pop music.
Community: Participants are mostly under 50, and at least half belong to other congregations, many of which are UU. Sanctuary Boston is also popular among religious professionals who are looking to find a spiritual home where they can recharge after a long week of serving others. Because of this dynamic, the few verbal meditations or reflections offered in worship often cover selfcare for those engaged in social justice work. Because they do not affiliate with a certain tradition or have specific shared doctrines, Sanctuary Boston can become a home for the religiously unaffiliated or those who have complicated relationships with organized religion.
Leadership: Sanctuary Boston engages in a system of decentralized leadership guided by the motto “no work without joy.” There is no single minister in the community; instead, Matt Meyer acts as Director of Community Life, and Mark David Buckles serves as Music Director. During worship, up to 14 different volunteers lead the community in song and reflection without anyone overseeing the transitions between each speaker or singer.
Current Activities: In addition to hosting evening worship every other Wednesday, Sanctuary Boston runs a program every 5 th Wednesday called Sanctuary on the Road during which they host gatherings at different congregations in the area. Small groups of 6-12 people also meet every other week to connect with the community. During the COVID-19 quarantine, Sanctuary Boston also began hosting weekly, virtual check-in groups to promote mental health and community support.
Special Programs: The Community Care Team supports struggling community members by sending music and art, providing grocery and medication pick up, and offering financial support from their Mutual Aid Fund. A few times a year, Sanctuary Boston partners with other religious organizations to join up for socializing, singing circles, and social justice training.
Affiliations and Partnerships: Sanctuary Boston’s primary form of community action is through donating half the collection money from each service to social justice organizations. the past, they have shared donations with organizations like Southerners on New Ground, Families for Justice and Healing, and Black and Pink.