Home and work were both one in the same place for centuries. In Jesus' day, as in times before, home and work, nurture and productivity, were co-located. By the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution provided giant buildings where thousands found work. Cities were becoming magnets, attracting people from more rural areas to the growing urban economy. Home sweet home on the farm, the first place, where families were self-contained units, became detached from the place of work which became the second place.
Churches were frequently the place of meeting, a third place, (home=first, work=second) often simply referred to as the Meeting House. Communities often centered their public space around the churches in town.
A lot has happened in a few hundred years since, but now, communities are more fragmented then ever. But, as in days of old, home and work are blending together with an increasing number of individuals working from home. We can even "be home" or "be at work" from anywhere we are, at any time, because of our technology. The "internet of things" is connecting all our doors, lights, and other appliances, devices, and even ourselves to each other and connecting all us to the world with increasing ease.
A congregation can experience worship, witness, and mission anywhere and anytime, too. Were it not that many of our churches have become silos in their communities. Our congregations need some new connections, and resourcing our churches to make those connections is part of the mission of regional mid council staff.
I am re-reading Ray Oldenburg's “Celebrating the Third Place: Inspiring Stories About the “Great Good Places” at the Heart of Our Communities”. Third places are important for the economy, civil society, democracy, civic engagement, and establishing feelings of a sense of place. The theology of place is called incarnational theology. When Jesus became a human, God became incarnate, making the sense of space an integral component to the Gospel (John 1:14).
Third Places offer neighbors an informal gathering place to feel at welcomed and invited to express their own voice, gifts, and co-create a sense of community. A same place to be part of the neighborhood. Of course, the church "building" can become such a space, but this would require a re-thinking of our hospitality, accessibility, and architecture of space. Other venues are possible, too. Take a look at examples of our 1001 New Worshipping Communities.
Oldenburg suggests the following hallmarks of a true third place:
- Free or inexpensive
- Food and drink, while not essential, are important
- Highly accessible: proximate for many (walking distance)
- Involve regulars - those who habitually congregate there
- Welcoming and comfortable
- Both new friends and old should be found there.
The congregations in your region can be third places in their communities, and they can create new third places where neighbors can explore life's richness and God's abundance, resource each other in meeting the challenges of the day, and provoking a sense of community, justice, and a convergence of spirit and life. For the congregations themselves, offering a third place in the community can be a stimulus toward even more effective worship, witness, and mission.
Pastors, what will you do today to explore how your church can become a Third Place? Make connections that bless the First Place and the Second Place. The possibilities are endless!