While the Global Call to 24-7 Prayer - A Day and Night Cry for Justice seeks to be an ongoing prayer initiative, there are already several Salvation Army centres with a sense of vision and calling to become Houses of Prayer (SA-HOP) - places where the fire of intercession never goes out and where God makes himself at home according to Isaiah 56:7 '...my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations'.
Sitting high above the city of Durham, located in the north of England, is the long-standing, stunning Durham Cathedral. Built almost 900 years ago, it was founded as a monastic cathedral built to house the shrine of Saint Cuthbert. It was once a place that criminals could come to and claim sanctuary, so they could attempt reconciliation with their enemies or plan their escape.
Just a few feet away from the Cathedral sits another place of sanctuary: The Salvation Army's Sanctuary 21. Described as a 'monastic place in the 21st century', this centre is a café, prayer room, place of worship and a place of refuge. This house of prayer is located in the centre of the city and is open day and night. It is, truly, a sanctuary for the people of Durham.
Captains Gary and Dawn Lacey were sent to Durham four years ago with the specific instructions to open a house of prayer. There had been a diminishing corps in the town for several decades that had finally closed its doors seven years prior. However, both Gary and Dawn knew that opening this house of prayer would not be a quick and easy process. They repeatedly heard from the people of Durham that their city didn't need another house of prayer - they already had the Cathedral.
So they prayed about it, and earnestly listened for the Lord's guidance and direction. Gary felt led to pray each morning in Durham Cathedral. Every day for a year, he walked up to the Cathedral for prayer. One morning, after several months, he went in early as usual, the only one in the Cathedral from what he could see. After a few moments, his mobile phone rang, as he had forgotten to turn it off. A Cathedral employee was at his side in an instant, insisting that Gary leave, as mobiles are supposed to be turned off while inside. Gary apologized, but was still forced to leave, which he did.
Hurt, he went to a local coffee shop. He shared what had happened with the owner, a non-believer with whom Gary had been building a relationship over the past year. The owner of the coffee shop laughed and sympathised with Gary, and gave him a free coffee and muffin. Gary realized that he had just been shown more love from this non-believer than he had in the Cathedral.
After this incident, the Laceys knew that God wanted them to plant a house of prayer in Durham. They were drawn to 1 Chronicles 28:10: 'Consider now, for the Lord has chosen you to build a temple as a sanctuary. Be strong and do the work.' Another passage of scripture that has guided their vision is found in Isaiah 58:1-8. This passage describes, in Gary and Dawn's opinions, what a house of prayer should look like - open to the whatsoever and whosoever.
Walking into Sanctuary 21, there's no telling what an eclectic crowd you might find in the building: an older adult group praying together in the prayer room; a small group Bible study being held in the café; a few homeless men and women stopping in for refreshments and shelter; gang members, drug dealers, prostitutes, all sitting around chatting with each other over a cup of tea; local university students meeting up with friends.
The ties that have been made throughout the community are apparent. Captains Lacey have built strong, personal relationships with several homeless men and women, often connecting them with housing placement services to get them off the streets. The university in Durham has set up a system that sends homesick first year students to Sanctuary 21 to volunteer or just talk with the Laceys. One of the university's Christian student organizations regularly hosts worship nights in the centre. Recently, the Chief of Police sat down with Captains Lacey to thank them for their work with Sanctuary 21. The Chief told them that crime in the city had decreased in the past year, and he attributes that directly to Sanctuary 21, Gary, Dawn, and their work. ‘If every city had a place like this, our job would be easier,' the Chief of Police asserted.
A unique feature that Sanctuary 21 has is its Prayer Hatch - a place for passersby to write prayer requests. It is their ‘mercy seat on the street.' A small table is set up in an open doorway with pens and small pieces of paper. People walking past are invited to write a short prayer request, all of which are prayed for individually. These prayer requests are tacked onto the walls inside the building, filling up the entire ground floor wall space - an overwhelming sight! The hundreds of prayer requests on the walls currently are the second round of cards submitted from the prayer hatch - which will soon need to be replaced with the new ones coming in.
‘The vision is prayer. Prayer is the be all and end all. But Sanctuary 21 is more than a house of prayer - it's a house of justice.' says Captain Gary Lacey. ‘What we're doing here is part of The Salvation Army's DNA. We all need to be deeply rooted in justice for the poor, the needy, and those who are broken.'
To find out more about Sanctuary 21, visit their website.