Sacred Relationships, not Sacred Space

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : September 23, 2004

I’ve noticed an inconsistency among many new approaches to doing and being church. Emergent folk both lowly and elite will make it known that the emergent movement focuses MORE on community than their modernist predecessors. Nevertheless, there is a tendency in the emergent movement to reintroduce sacred space into the evangelical strain of protestantism. I recognize the appeal of this, however I think it can detract from a community-emphasis.

Emphasizing a place reinforces the caustic idea of church-as-place at worst, or church-as-event at best. I know it isn’t necessarily an either/or. However, I think it is worth some troubled reflection by all who would like to run to the latest neo-catholic fad within evangelicalism. Emphasizing a space often leads to church-as-place. Focusing most of a churches energy on a particular meeting and the way the environment feels and looks leads to church-as-event. caveat emptor

Being the good quasi-neo-anabaptist that I am, I’d like to make a plug for sacred-relationship instead of sacred-place. The sacred thing about meeting in a large gathering for teaching and singing is that Christians are gathered. The sacred thing about communion is that Jesus’ family is gathering to remember Jesus, and Jesus is present with them by his Spirit. Anytime believers meet together in Jesus’ name is a sacred thing. No amount of candles or art can change that. Once we own this idea, we can justify spending more of our resources on relationships and less on prettying up our meeting space.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying there is no place for aesthetics. Aesthetics can be a powerful expression of beauty. We can know one another, and even God, better because of aesthetics. But aesthetics must yield to relationship. If aesthetics can be sacred, it is second-hand sacredness, when it is used to communicate relationship and personhood.

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5 Responses to “Sacred Relationships, not Sacred Space”

  1. andy gr on September 27th, 2004 6:18 am

    As someone who’s recently been posting a lot on sacred space (the collected conversations have now been moved to I find this refreshing. I’ll link to your post from ‘emergent like slime’ and maybe we can cross-fertilise a bit…

  2. gemma on September 27th, 2004 9:05 am

    I think the main point is that every place -in the sense of every neighbourhood - is special. One way to help a neighbourhood embrace its specialness is to have a ’shrine’ at the centre where God can be met. Without this central point, globalisation may destroy the particular-ness of a community.

  3. Van S on September 27th, 2004 10:57 am

    Gemma–thanks for the insight. However, I think that there are otherways to embrace specialness. Families don’t need a shrine to feel a sense of community or specialness. Churches need to embrace their distinctiveness by being a family, not by where they meet.

  4. travis on September 27th, 2004 11:01 am

    I think the main thing that the conversation about sacred space on ‘emergent like slime’ showed me was that there is no biblical reason to think that places are no longer important. The bible is full of special places, and we should try to fill our world with them too.

  5. Van S on September 27th, 2004 11:23 am

    Travis, can you show me some Scriptural evidence from the New Testament that would support the idea of “sacred space?” I don’t have a problem with some spaces being special, but when they become sacred conveyers of the grace of God, it becomes problematic. I think part of Jesus’ innovation is the removal of a structural temple with a corporate temple of people. There is a strong decentralization motif in the New Testament, and a moving away from Temple and Priesthood in the conventional sense and to a New Priesthood and a Temple made up of the People of God. This strongly implies a move away from sacred space as conceived by the ancient Hebrews.

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