The Sanctuary stinks.
People slept outside the night before in Colorado Springs' fiercest winter storm, and now they've joined the congregation in the church near Old Colorado City. The morning glow spills through the blinds, through the dank air. The Christian rock music softens as Eric Sandras takes the small stage.
Before communion, the tattooed pastor reads The Sanctuary Church's mission. The music builds as he goes on:
"If you are a saint, sinner, loser, winner, abused, abuser, whore, gambler, lost, fearful, ADHD, liar, hypocrite, bastard, lover, cutter, tweaker, alcoholic, adopted, abandoned, leftover, divorced, LGBT, alone, old, young, driven, cheater, success, infected, rejected ..."
The guitars and drums crescendo, and people are on their feet rejoicing to hear Sandras shout: "Or if you're just a plain misfit, you are welcome here!"
An hour before, people gathered down the hall in a room known as the Ragamuffin Café. A woman who called herself Rejeana held a teddy bear in the crook of her arm and said she came to the Sanctuary because she wanted her anger to go away. Another called Josh said he'd been in and out of rehab, trying other churches. "But they really actually accept you here," he said.
Behind the spread of fruit, rolls, cereal and coffee, volunteer Cheryl Finkbeiner asked a fidgeting woman: "Whatcha need, baby?"
"That right there, that," she replied, pointing to the oatmeal. "Please, please, I've been craving that for days. Oh my gosh, I'm excited."
Eighteen ate quietly. They left with well-wishes to each other, returning outside or to Sandras' sermon.
For this one, he draws from the Book of Luke's "great banquet" to make a point on parties and churches. "You don't invite people who will pay you back," he says. "You invite people who have no way of paying you back."
That has been the five-year approach in the West Colorado Avenue building that used to house Bethany Baptist. As that church dissolved, Sandras and Greg Trujillo established the nondenominational ministry they had in mind for their beloved west side.
"We knew that there were people here who never stepped in a church, and we wanted to make them comfortable," Trujillo says. "We found so many people wanting to connect with other people, but they felt a little bit off. They felt really condemned or ostracized, like outcasts."
That included a homeless woman who told Sandras and Trujillo she was gay and mad at the world. But she came to the Sanctuary, and she came back.
"We asked her why," Trujillo says. "She said it was the smells."
'OK to not be OK'
Sandras calls the Sanctuary "the island of misfit toys" and himself "that weird lion" in "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" - the talking, winged animal that cares for the broken residents.
"Even that lion is not what he's supposed to be," Sandras says.
He relates to the 200 members of his church, to the 40 percent he estimates are in the midst of some recovery, be it chemical or emotional. While feeling empowered as the leader of a student ministry, he also felt phony at Colorado State University. On his way to graduation and a career split between pastoring and teaching aspiring counselors, he was overcoming a sex addiction.
He openly discusses that time in his life, along with his "three years of suck." He was diagnosed with cancer, the economy collapsed and he lost his job and went broke, forced in 2010 to move his wife and two kids into his parents' home in the Springs.
Such is one story of struggle among the Sanctuary's leaders.
"Anybody who speaks here, their first message is how screwed up they are," Sandras says. "We all just admit our failures."
Yolanda Maravilla's abusive marriage had just ended when Sandras asked her to helm the Ragamuffin Café. "I prayed about it for about a month, feeling I'm not capable," she said. "But God said, 'I don't bring in the qualified. I bring in the unqualified.'"
Through the Sanctuary's front doors comes the smiling Damon Ollier, whom Sandras encouraged to lead small groups during the church's early years. At the time, Ollier was getting clean.
He'll be four years sober in April. "When I first came here, I was totally sick, a needle in my arm," he says. "I came in, and Dr. E said to me, 'It's OK to not be OK.' That statement rocked my world."
With a doctorate in human development and family relations, Sandras supplements his income by teaching at Colorado Christian University. The church "gives consistently, it just can't give deeply," he says, explaining why partnerships with nonprofits such as the Springs Rescue Mission are vital in continuing the Sanctuary's outreach.
Money is one trade-off of the church focused on the margins. A smelly sanctuary "is not for everybody," Sandras says.
Other sacrifices come in trying to serve people who might be mentally ill. "My poor security team," Sandras says, recalling a man recently found peeing in a sink.
Sandras mentions a more redeeming instance. In the church lobby, the little daughter of a stripper gave him a baggie of coins from her lemonade stand, he says. Soon after, a woman handed him a brown paper bag so she wouldn't have the contents: a crack pipe and pills.
"So here I am, just holding these two bags," Sandras says, "and I'm just thinking, 'Man, I love this place.'"