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Refugia Church

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(The following article first appeared in the Konnoak Hills Moravian Church newsletter.)

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth should change… though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

Psalm 46:1-3

Some of us are old enough to remember way back to 1980, when a volcanic eruption blew 1,300 feet of elevation off the top of Mount St. Helens leaving a mile-wide crater with volcanic ash covering the surrounding landscape. In the months following this apocalyptic explosion, scientist speculated it would take several human generations before abundant life would return. But now, a little more than 40 years later, the mountain slopes are covered with grasses and wildflowers, trees and shrubs. Animal life is plentiful. And clear and clean streams are flowing.

How did this recovery happen in such a relatively short amount of time?

It happened because when the mountain blasted rock and ash over the landscape, small spaces, cracks and crevices hidden in the rocks and trees, provided little pockets of safety for sprouting seeds and small animals. A small space under a boulder gave shelter to a field mouse. A rotting log protected a small patch of ferns. Seedlings found sanctuary between tree roots.

Biologist have a name for small protective spaces such as these. They call them refugia. (Re-FU-jee-ah) It’s a Latin word with the same root as our word refuge. Refugia. They’re places of shelter where life endures in devastating and disruptive times to re-emerge and renew the world.

Debra Reinstra, in her book Refugia Faith1, offers this image as a fitting model for the church today. – A numerically declining church in turbulent times no longer playing the dominate role it once had in society. There’s a definite place in the world for a small congregation such as ours. There’s a drastic need in our world…. our city… our neighborhood for a secure space of refuge.

– A space where life can flourish on a landscape of violence, inhumanity, and despair.

– A life-giving space of unconditional welcome for those who are under-valued, discriminated against, and persecuted.

– A safe space where people of all physical abilities and mental capacities are treated with dignity, respect, and honor.

– A place of healing for the broken and wounded.

– A geographical space where Creation is respected and sustained by environmentally sound practices.

– A community where it is not thought to be foolish to follow the way of Jesus.

– And a place where people find life’s greatest meaning and purpose by embracing the values we witness in Christ.

The good news for us today is that God is not calling us to struggle to be the church we were a generation ago. No, our calling is to be the church in our day. – To be a refugia community offering sanctuary and security in the fellowship of Christ.

We can send a mission team to rebuild homes after a devastating storm, and that would be a good thing. – A very good thing. Or we could travel halfway around the world to teach or preach, to heal or give hope. And that would also be a very good thing. We could drive over to Raleigh or up to Washington and raise a voice for what is just and right, and that would also be a good mission to serve. But our greatest mission is to create a welcoming refuge of life and God’s love here on the corner of Konnoak Drive and Rhyne Avenue.

Every trip to church on Sunday morning is a mission trip. Every gathering for worship, or learning, or fellowship is a mission gathering. Every one of us is a missionary to the other, offering a refuge where life flourishes and re-emerges to renew the world.

Blessed by the refugia we share,


1 Debra Reinstra, Refugia Faith: Seeking Hidden Shelters, Ordinary Wonders, and the Healing of the Earth, Fortress Press, 2022

About the reviewer

John D. Rights serves as Pastor of Konnoak Hills Moravian Church.  

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