Alaina Kleinbeck is the director of the Duke Youth Academy.
I recently bought a “fixer-upper” house, but it is actually more of a “gut-and-start over” house. I enjoy the process of planning closets and designing kitchens, and I see these tasks as priming the canvas for the creation of a home.
Cultivating a space to call home is more than updating the wiring and replacing the floors. Home is a place that is imbued with meaning and memories. As I anticipate the end of these renovations, more than the aesthetics of wall color and floor tile, I imagine the people gathered in that newly open space, laughing, eating, crying, being just who they are. I imagine a home.
The activity of cultivating a space to call home is a deeply spiritual practice that parallels the work of a cultivating a space for ministry. The pedagogy of our sanctuaries, meeting rooms and other gathering spaces is a powerful messenger of our faith. It is a tool of instruction that is too often left unconsidered.
After wrestling with the theological theme of vocation and the call of Christ in the baptismal waters, a group of students and staff at the 2013 Duke Youth Academy for Christian Formation (link is external) re-arranged the rows of chairs at evening worship from straight front-facing rows to rounded center-facing rows. During the closing song, worshippers exited the womb-like arrangement, passing by the baptismal font on their way out the door. When the worshippers had exited the sanctuary, the pastor’s benediction urged the community to live vibrantly as a people born anew in the baptismal waters.
By weaving together the space, the movement, and the words around the new birth of baptism, the group creatively embodied a theological vision of vocational calling and inspired each person to reflect on God’s call in their life and community. With a few modifications, the furniture of the sanctuary became a theologically rich learning tool. The group cultivated reflection on baptismal vocation and a powerfully embodied a reenactment of new birth in Christ.
The aesthetics of our sanctuaries and our fellowship halls, our offices and our meeting rooms determine much of the ways we relate to one another and how we meet God.
The beauty of cathedral demands meditative reverence; a big box retail store retrofitted into a church empowers an innovative entrepreneurial spirit. Rearranging the chairs disrupts our habits and dislocates all of us, giving us new neighbors and a new perspective on the community and the word that is shared.
We may change the banners and altar cloths with the liturgical season, but what if we rearranged the furniture or sat on the floor to help us inhabit the space in a posture of the season or the day’s teaching? If moving the furniture is not a practical possibility, how else might we change the space to spark refreshed reflection?
How do we want our neighbors, our congregation, our co-workers, and our friends to use the gathering spaces of our church and homes? How do we want them to feel while they are there? What can we say about our faith without saying it at all? Tying the aesthetics of our gathering spaces to the practices and teachings of the people who gather there is the beginning of cultivating a place to call home.
This article first appeared on Faith and Leadership.