A sense of “place”

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : November 4, 2004

I’ve heard it from many people in different places that having a sense of “place” is important in urban ministry. Urban churches need a “place” that people can go. I’d like that to be houses for people, since we are a house church movement, but it is naive to expect houses to automatically be that for people. A mere house isn’t enough–we need to move beyond house-churches to having ministry houses that aren’t just places people live and meet, but also a place out of which people minister. I think a church office, or a leased or owned meeting space can also give that sense of place, but it is important, if a church is going to be geographically focused, for them to have a “place” for people with needs and questions to go. What do you think?

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9 Responses to “A sense of “place””

  1. Jeff on November 4th, 2004 3:53 pm

    but not a church…?

  2. Van S on November 4th, 2004 4:00 pm

    I don’t think any building that people meet in is a church. Churches are made of people, not stones. I never want to be in a building that exists purely for Sunday gathering or that is designed to give the impression that the building is a temple or sacred. I believe in sacred relationships, not sacred space.

  3. Gregg on November 4th, 2004 7:33 pm

    Sacred relationships AND sacred spaces:

    I think that it’s easy to overspiritualize the reaction against housing a church. Jesus was the Incarnation into tangible human form. He interacted with environmental forces. He used buildings as meaningful metaphors (e.g. mansions). He had a strong reaction to the misuse of the temple, so there’s evidence that he associated, at least some spaces, with a kind of value.
    I think that Christians can become better citizens of our ecology (our human ecology) by realizing that it is human to ascribe value to things. If we toss everything into a spiritualize centrifuge and assume that the only valuable stuff that emerges is an abstraction of a relationship, then we’re missing the point of the incarnation. So, sacred space is interconnected to sacred relationships, in my opinion. Why react to that and try so hard to disentangle them? Don’t we have relationships with all the things in our environment? I might not have the intensity of a relationship to my church building as I do to my friend, but both exist.
    Maybe I’m puffing air and need to nut this out a liitle more, but it seems that Christians are good at spiritualizing in an effort to isolate what is really real. As though we should only value the ‘cream’ and not the rest of the batch. And this implies that there’s something wrong with acknoweldging the very natural human inclination to ascribe value to the things around us. I don’t think the answer is to devalue those things (e.g. a space where the church identifies itself), but maybe it’s to to recognize that they are valuable but subservient to the redeeming reality of authentic relationships.

  4. Van S on November 4th, 2004 7:46 pm

    Ascribing value is different than calling a think sacred. For something to be a sacrament or sacred means, in my mind, that it mediates grace. I am not against meeting in a building, but by definition, a temple is a place in which the Divine’s precence is more real than someplace else. Part of what Jesus means is that WE are the temple. A building is not. So while we can use places and objects for special purposes and value them, we must be careful that we don’t call them sacred. This isn’t an over-simplification or an exercise in spiritualizing. It is based in the theological conviction that a thing isn’t a container for grace or God’s presence. By giving all believers the Holy Spirit, Jesus made us his sacred church. A building can never be a sacred church. So sacred relationships NOT sacred space… ;)

  5. andy gr on November 5th, 2004 7:04 am

    ..and yet, once people have encountered God in the ’space’, it will become ’sacred’ to them, just as Bethel became sacred to Jacob. So you might as well say to your whole community as you start: ‘we’ve rented a building on 5th and Lakeside. It’s just a set of cement blocks, but we believe that you will in time find it to be a home from home, and God will graciously choose to encounter human beings there. When that happens, it will be a sacred space. Why not come and join us while it’s just concrete, and see what happens?’

  6. Gregg on November 5th, 2004 9:32 am

    Here’s what comes to mind in response…Can we definitively say that there is nothing sacred about the material/physical world? Either now or in the future?

  7. Van S on November 5th, 2004 10:12 am

    Sure, sure. Both Andy and Gregg make fine points. I don’t want to say that buildings aren’t special. In a way, they can have a sort of sacredness-by-proxy. The house I grew up in has great meaning for me because my family lived there. If someone wants to give special honor to a place, I’m not going to bite their head off, but calling a building sacred in the traditional sense is something I don’t see any justification for. I don’t hear anyone making a strong sacramental case for sacred space, so I suspect we’re quibbling over finer points.

    Andy, using Old Testament examples doesn’t exactly work, since my basis for rejecting the notion of sacred space is that we have received the promised Holy Spirit.

    Gregg, sure, the earth is the Lord’s. I don’t have a problem with the idea that EVERYTHING is, in a way, sacred. The idea I have problems with is that a sanctuary is, in its own right, a sacred conveyor of divine grace. Nor do I believe that the cup or the bread is, in its own right, a sacred conveyor of divine grace. It is the relationships that come with those things that are sacred, and if there is any sense of these things being sacred, it is derived.

  8. andy gr on November 5th, 2004 1:46 pm

    I think we agree on the deep-down stuff, Van, and none of us is saying that buildings have sanctity regardless of whether people encounter God in them - perhaps the difference is that the potential ’specialness’ of the building features for me as part of my mission strategy?

  9. Gregg on November 5th, 2004 3:01 pm

    Zoiks! Seems like I just posted and I turn around there’s a response! This blogging thang is a time-intensive ordeal…and my time is Sacred! Uh, sorry, but I couldn’t resist. Well, I haven’t had a chance to mull, but I am germinating something about the interconnectivity between the physical and the spiritual. I’ll produce something later, though…can’t keep up with the blogging establishment.

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