The importance of place

We are working on our parish mission statement. I pointed out at a recent vestry meeting that the current version, and the drafts we are working on are disembodied, general, not particular. When we have conversations about Grace’s mission, inevitably we talk about our location, on the Capitol Square of Madison, but our location hasn’t been articulated as part of our mission. The sense of place we have has not been clearly defined for ourselves and others.

Jeremiah Sierra had a brief reflection today that addresses the “sense of place.” He talks about his sense of sacred space, memories of the scent of his church in childhood, and the nomadic existence of the church he now attends, which meets in a Zen Center in Brooklyn. He concludes:

It’s useful for every community to periodically reflect on its relationship to its place (and not simply by asking whether it is time for another capital campaign): What kind of space best serves your community? Can you use your building to nurture other worthwhile organizations? Could your community survive without its building? How is your community welcoming others into its sanctuary or parish hall?


Read it all here.

Craig Bartholomew has some similar things to say is working on a theology of place. Here’s an interview with him.

Among his comments:

What we are experiencing in our world is a wide sense of displacement, which does not lead to human flourishing. Outside Christian circles, the literature on the crisis of place is huge, but within Christianity, it’s only starting to get attention.

Contemporary life roots against this deep implacement through the speed of culture, technology, the automobile, and the state of economics. The middle class is always on the go through places and are not generally deeply rooted in a particular place.


And this:

The diagnosis is that we have lost a robust doctrine of creation. Place is rooted in the doctrine of creation. If we recover that doctrine of creation and see the wonderful redemption in Christ as God recovering his purposes for his whole creation, then suddenly all these issues—like city, home, gardening, and farming—are spiritual and thus not second-rate.

Of the several hundred thousand churches in the United States, many are property owners. Just imagine if each of these churches attended closely to their property as a place and develop it in healthy—not necessarily expensive—ways. This would make a major contribution to the commons of our culture and bear plausible witness to Christ. Just as the creation constantly declares God’s goodness and power (Psalm 19), so too our places would continually bear witness to this extraordinary God who has come to us in Christ.

Bartholomew connects the importance of place to the doctrine of creation. But it’s also a matter of the Incarnation. How do we incarnate the body of Christ in this particular place, at this time? One of the important challenges to Christianity in the present context is the rise of social media and technology which can create virtual community across wide distances. Yet ours is an embodied faith, an embodied religion, and there must be a way to express our faith concretely, and to experience the sacraments in their materiality.