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The Importance of Place

church-buildingThe Importance of Place: A Reflection On Buildings

A few months ago, you may have heard me mention that New Life Community Church (a.k.a. the Theater Church) bought the old First United Methodist church building! The discussion we had at the October Ministerium meeting was rich with questions about the issue of “the importance of place”.

The membership of New Life church is not like that of many traditional mainline churches:

  • most members are people who are homeless and/or live below the poverty level
  • the membership is steadily growing


A Need For Space

Lacking the income to have any kind of “capital campaign”, this congregation was adamant that they did not want to go into debt, according to their pastor, Ryan Brown. This is a lesson they have been taught over and over again by social service agencies such as Maranatha, and he was impressed to see that they were able to put their learning into action with the purchase of a church home. Their big priority was to make the building a place that would serve the community, and they wanted to spend only the amount of money that would enable the building to serve the function that they had declared for it. Financially this is in part being made possible by Carlisle United Methodist church’s willingness to allow a generous 30 year purchase plan. This benefits both church bodies: because New life will take over the building, former Methodist congregation members will get to see their old building serving the community instead of being torn down, as was going to happen if they sold it to anyone else. And as a result of the negotiation process, members of New Life and Carlisle United Methodist church have forged new relationships with each other that promise to grow deeper with their shared vision for the future.

New Life’s creativity also includes some non-traditional methods of financing: they plan to lease building space to several non-profit agencies that people in the neighborhood often use, as well as to house several of their own ongoing ministries (weekly Sunday morning breakfast for all who want to partake and their annual Car Winterization event for single mothers). The building will likely not even be labeled as a “church”… the working name is New Life Community Resource Center.


A Place to Call Their Own

Another reason members were happy to make this bold move of faith is that they were tired of having to set up then de-construct the worship space every week… this prevented a good number of members from being able to feel a sense of community with others because all of their time before and after worship was spent in physical labor. With a permanent dedicated worship space, the move will allow all members to be equally present to each other in community.

One of the other attendees at the Ministerium saw another value for this largely homeless congregation to experience a sense of place. Many of these congregation members had never owned a home, and most currently have no place to consider “theirs”. She brought up the point of what a valuable learning experience this would be for adults and children alike, to have a space that would be “theirs” and that they would have to maintain. It could provide them with skills and knowledge that they will hopefully need in the future as well as a sense of security and belonging.

What Should We Learn From This

The whole discussion made me ask myself … and you, as members of St. Paul … a few questions:

  • Do we have the courage to let go of our own sense of “purpose” for our church building and instead let God use it for His purposes?
  • Can we allow the priority of our building be to serve others rather than serve ourselves?
  • Can we grasp the importance of being community with each other AND with the community around us as well as New Life members seem to have done?
  • Shouldn’t we locate our “sense of place” in God’s Kingdom rather than in a building?

I offer no answers, just a challenge for us all to think, during the season of Lent, about these questions prayerfully and see where the Holy Spirit leads us!

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