Re-imagining church–The Church in the Round in Seattle

I’m intrigued by what is taking place in Seattle. An established parish has been asked to “re-start” another parish in another part of town. After interviews in the neighborhood, the group designing the new effort have identified a number of themes and priorities:

  • Alternative worship
  • The young adult community, including young families
  • Food, gardens, and green space
  • Homelessness services
  • A community center (coffee house, theater, multi-cultural meeting place)
  • Jobs

Apparently the questions they asked were:

1) What are your dreams for the Lake City neighborhood, 2) What are your fears for the neighborhood, and 3) What would be your ultimate dream for this space that includes 2 acres and a building that includes a sanctuary in the round, a parish hall in the round, and a few additional spaces?

I’m intrigued, because rather than trying to restart on the basis of what was already there or some preconceived notion of what the Episcopal Church ought to be in that place, they reached out to the community first. In a way, it’s not unlike what St. Luke’s Racine has done.

It’s also an example of how to rethink and adapt physical spaces to meet new needs and new forms of ministry. Among the Episcopal Church’s chief assets is its property, specifically church buildings. Buildings are often perceived to be albatrosses, especially in the case of nineteenth-century or twentieth-century buildings located in downtowns, blighted areas, in need of maintenance and the like. The current dynamic in American culture might be to try to “unload” them; in corporate parlance, to eliminate unprofitable locations and invest elsewhere. But as a city councilor said during the debate over the St. Francis House development, we will never again build churches like those that were built in the nineteenth and earlier twentieth century. The question is how we can leverage them into opportunities and assets for ministry and mission, rather than perceive them only as potential liabilities.

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