If you were to ask me what my earliest memories of church are, I would say, “walking around the sanctuary barefoot.” To this day, I can still feel the squishy carpet under my feet; my nose remembers the smell of that sacred room; my eyes and ears can see and hear the creaks of the pews and the giant organ pipes. Growing up as a preacher’s kid, I spent many afternoons wandering the church building…often with my shoes off. Holy Ground.

I first stepped into the pulpit while working at a Presbyterian Church after college. I was asked to “speak” at the contemporary Wednesday night service (speak, not preach because I wasn’t ordained). And without really thinking, I slipped off my shoes as I read the scripture before giving my “talk.” Holy Ground.

We teach Godly Play on Wednesday nights at my church, and each week as we get ready in the hallway, we invite the children to take off their shoes. Because the room they are going to enter into is a special and sacred place where they will talk to, hear from, and meet God. Holy Ground.

Every time I step into a pulpit to preach, I slip off my shoes. There is something about being able to feel the floor beneath my feet that helps ground me (literally) as I begin to preach that gives me confidence and makes me feel like I am that much connected to God. Holy Ground.

It has been hard during this pandemic to find the Holy Ground places. Staying in my apartment for a lot of the last 9 months hasn’t allowed me to walk through our sanctuary with my shoes off or to sit with children in a classroom and wonder about the stories of our faith. And with the absence of these holy ground moments, I have also felt like I am missing that grounding connection with God.

A couple of months ago, I discovered a new Holy Ground. I began meeting up with two of my friends on Monday evenings for dinner. Our first or second evening together, after we ate dinner, we found ourselves wandering over to sit on the steps of the courthouse in downtown Decatur. Dinner was lighthearted, filled with laughter and joking and talking about our days.

But something happened in the transition from dinner to sitting on the steps. When we settled into our spots, we began to talk about deeper things- fears, worries, concerns; but also hopes, dreams and wishes. There was usually one of us who would ask a thought-provoking question, and we would sit in silence, letting our responses form. And then we would share- honest, vulnerable, genuine sharing. And we would listen- receiving whatever it was that our friend needed to offer. Holy Ground.

These evenings have been some of the most meaningful and life-giving things I have been a part of ever…but especially in this pandemic. And while I didn’t always slip off my shoes (although sometimes I did), I knew that the steps of this courthouse will be one of those places that will always be a part of my story and be one of those Holy Ground places for me, and probably my friends.

In Matthew 18 we read, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am with them.” We didn’t gather on the steps with the intention or purpose of gathering in Jesus’ name. But we broke bread together and shared life together, and so I am confident that God was present in the burgers and laughs just as much as God was present in the steps and the sharing.

Thanks be to God for the unexpected Holy Ground.

Rev. Kristen Koger currently serves as the pastor for Children and Families at First Baptist Church, Decatur, GA. She enjoys cooking, knitting, playing board games, and spending time with her dog Dietrich “Bone”hoeffer.