The Mission of Sacred Space

The first draft of Grace’s Master Plan was released this week. You can read more about that here: On the surface, the master planning process seems to be all about physical plant, renovations, and the like. But underneath it all are fundamental questions about mission. What does it mean to be God’s people in this particular place, Madison’s Capitol Square?


The Master Plan envisions a courtyard garden that remains beautiful but also becomes a place for mission and worship. With a labyrinth at its center, with opportunities for gathering, and with less permeable barriers between inside and outside, the garden would invite spiritual and human relationships.

It’s important to remember that Grace’s interior spaces have changed over the years. Our nave has been altered in keeping with the aesthetic and liturgical values of previous generations. Here are several historical shots:






As I reflect on the nature of sacred space, on Grace’s physical plant and on our rapidly changing culture, I focus on several questions:

1) How do we use our spaces to help our neighbors connect with God? Whether or not they ever join Grace Church, can we invite those who live, work, and play in downtown Madison to find at Grace ways to explore their relationships with God? How do we also create opportunities for them to share Christ’s love with the world?

2) And how do we move from those initial connections and encounters with the divine to deeper relationships? How do we invite and encourage people to join with us as we seek to know God more deeply and to follow Jesus’ call more closely? How do we create opportunities for bible study, formation, and discipleship that are appropriate to the twenty-first century?

3) What is appropriate stewardship of our physical resources for the 21st century? Is it appropriate to have so large a worship space, located so centrally to Capitol Square, that is used so little on a regular basis?

4) How can our worship extend beyond our walls to help people encounter God in their daily lives and help people encounter God who would never imagine attending Sunday morning services?

Others are raising interesting questions about space as mission.

The case for creating a front porch at a church:

I like the metaphor of the front porch, an intermediate space between street and interior, a place for casual interaction that might grow.

How can churches build the front porch, creating a space where people can develop relationships before coming inside?

We’ve got one, it’s our courtyard garden. How can we make use of it?

Even Catholics are asking these questions:

 Indeed, it may not make any sense at all to pour limited resources into buildings used for a few hours on Sunday when what the neighborhood needs is a retreat house, a day care, or a community garden.

That doesn’t mean we stop creating places to celebrate Sunday Mass. It just means that maybe we do it in buildings tied in new and creative ways to the works of justice, mercy, and freedom the Eucharist calls us to in the places we find ourselves in.

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