We live in a world where the contemporary sacred longs to be relevant and connected to the secular. In rural and small towns, this connection is easier to build in meaningful ways. In urban centres and sprawling cities, there is one resource that the church has in spades, that could revolutionise the way churches contribute to communities and cities.
What is that precious resource? Space. It is the one commodity that urban centres long for and churches have an abundance of.
If the broader contribution of the church to human civilisation is to patron the arts, then more of our spaces should be devoted to sharing space. Opening up space. People in cities and urban spaces are constantly constrained from pursuing their gifts, talents, business endeavours because urban space is so expensive and hard to access. Shared spaces and hotdesking in virtual offices is on the increase but what if the Church, in all those prime city and city fringe locations opened it’s doors to people who need space.
I don’t mean leasing our space either. I mean opening up the doors of our buildings in prime central real estate that often sit half unused and pouring that resource back into the communities that are longing for it. For the small and medium sized businesses that are in start-up mode, where every penny they can save on overheads can go into smarter and better products and services. Into innovation and invention.
We should splatter the walls of our cathedrals with the acrylics and plaster of our artists, sculpting, painting and making in the vast caverns of space that we devote to holy emptiness.
We should fill those spaces with good works. The works of hands and minds. There should be no caveat of Christian belonging either. Just being human ought to be enough to make use of the resources we provide – free internet, hot water, meeting rooms and desk space. Studio space. Creating and making space. So what if our bills go up slightly and we have to vaccuum more often? Think about the relationships we could build. Who cares if occasionally people take advantage? Think about the ones who won’t.
The point I’m making is that the Church mets week on week and searches for ways to be meaningful and build bridges into communities and cities in ways that contribute to broader society – when the easiest thing we could do is remember what the preciousness of our sanctuaries and spaces is all about. People.
I frequently recall the words of Mike Yaconelli, who wrote about the necessity of stained carpet. We worry so much about the straight lines and cleanliness in our welcoming space but there is an authencity to stains on the carpet and on the walls that says ‘humanity is welcome here’.
Humanity with all it’s mess and creativity. Our sanctuaries and buildings were always meant to be for people. Filled with people, resourcing people, providing help and shelter for people. Providing opportunity and support for people.
The Church often gets confused into thinking that in order to be meaningful it must be us that does the work. That the work must be of our hands. But often the greatest impact is had simply in what we can facilitate. What opportunities we create for others by our being.