2014 5 November

Third Space: Being Church for our Times – Moderator Gary Paterson

Posted in Steinbach United

Third space is a common-sense term for where people gather — first space, home; second space, work; and then, third space: the local pub, the bowling league, the book club; or broader, perhaps a political party, or maybe a church — a space where people feel welcome; where important discussions can happen because there is respect, you feel safe, and there is opportunity to share your story and listen to other perspectives and other stories. It is a space to gather in community, and talk about things that matter.

I have read with interest the many responses to my blog post on doctor-assisted suicide,“Going into that Good Night” — the variety of understandings, questions, and concerns; the stories of personal journeys with loved ones in their final days. There have been more responses to this post than almost any other. I think this reflects an interest in the wider community for opportunities to talk about this issue.

As we await the wisdom of the Supreme Court, I can imagine churches hosting conversations about doctor-assisted suicide and euthanasia, becoming “third space” for the community to come together — not to be preached at, as if we as a church were of one mind, and completely clear about what is a faithful, ethical, and loving response to the questions of choosing to end one’s life. But rather, church as “third space,” where people are welcomed with their questions; where further questions get raised; where a variety of options can be explored and discussed. People will go away feeling more informed, aware of deeper issues, and clearer about the choices involved. And, hopefully, they will be strengthened for their own journeys and better able to understand what decisions they might need to make personally in the future.

I wonder if this might be an important role for our church, to host conversations about faith and ethics; hard but important issues and decisions that need to be made. During a recent visit to Alberta and Northwest Conference, I experienced the church becoming “third space” about a different concern, providing members of the community — “churched” and not — to come together to talk about racism and Aboriginal peoples.

On a mid-week night, at St. Albert United Church in northwest Edmonton, a couple of hundred people (mainly Caucasian) sat in a circle. There were four speakers within that circle (including myself) — two Aboriginal, two non-Aboriginal; two men, two women — each one of us speaking from a personal and different perspective — church, media, education, and social services.


And it was also a time for questions and conversation. The evening started with small groups where people were invited to share the questions they had about the road to right relations. Then all the questions were posted on the wall, and we had a chance to read what was up there. There was frustration and anger, a bit of guilt; wonderings about next steps; some stereotypes, along with a yearning for connection. I sensed that these were “real questions,” unfiltered, and it was good that there was permission for them to be named.

Although the four presenters did not directly address the questions on the wall, nevertheless, their comments did speak to some of the concerns that had been named. Then, after the presentations, there was another opportunity for small group discussion, where people could talk about what they had learned, what had touched their hearts, what new questions they had, and what actions might be taken. Finally, the evening finished with bannock and tea and the room was full of conversations. It was a rich evening.

So think about it… about third space; about the opportunity for the church to host important conversations; to provide an opportunity for people in the community to explore issues like, well, like physician-assisted suicide. It’s yet another way of being church in our times.