While at yesterday's worship gathering, in the middle of a time of confessional prayer, the silence was interrupted by the sounds of a siren just outside our church building. This is a fairly common occurrence for us on Sunday morning, and we've long since learned to accept these interruptions. Similar sounds have broken through our worship times in other churches I've attended, too, so it's not like my current congregation is alone in this regard, despite its proximity to the fire station just across the street.
There is a sense in which I wish that I didn't have to hear the sirens. It's not that I don't want the emergency crews to do their important work, so much as I wish it were somehow possible to sound proof the walls of the sanctuary so that the sounds of the sirens couldn't penetrate my "sacred space." I'm fully aware that this would be impractical, not to mention potentially dangerous (what if the fire was actually in the next building, and we needed to evacuate? Those extra seconds of warning could be important!), but I'd be lying if I didn't admit to wanting silence in those times.
Christians talk a lot about being "in the world, but not of the world," and although they usually aren't talking about things like sirens heard during times of worship, there's something about that cliché that works in this context, too. We want our worship times to be a time "set apart" from the rest of the week. We want to focus on God in a way that (admittedly, if not ideally) we haven't done at other times. We expect our sanctuaries to be... well, sanctuaries--sacred places. Places of refuge. Hearing sirens during a weekly worship gathering reminds us that, in a very real sense, a church sanctuary isn't any different from any other building set in a particular area. Events that impact that locale will, of necessity, impact the church building as well.
We need these reminders. Although it is good to set aside time during the week to gather together in worship, and to create sacred space for that purpose, we need to be reminded that the rest of the world is still out there. It doesn't magically disappear just because we've gathered for a particular purpose. And, indeed, what good is that purpose if it doesn't encourage us to return to "the rest of world" after our gathering time is completed, so that we may continue our worship through acts of service to the communities around us?