2014 6 December

More About Third Space – Moderator Gary Paterson

Posted in Steinbach United


-Moderator Gary Paterson…….


I have found myself thinking more about “third space” possibilities as a way of expressing our United Church’s “love of the neighbour[hood]”, and our commitment to justice. It’s an idea that is very much alive in the United States at the moment as events unfold in Ferguson, Missouri. Many churches there are providing a place of refuge and comfort. Making churches “third spaces” can offer the community a safe place to talk about difficult topics – like race – something that is so desperately needed in these times.

Home is first space; work is second. Third spaces are those places where community members can gather to have conversations that matter; where differences of opinion and ideas can be explored; where public issues and concerns can be engaged. It’s a bit like the concept of the “public square,” where different voices can weigh in on social issues and help the community think about the common good. These days it seems to me that such spaces are few and far between.

Maybe the church could be a place where such discussion could happen. However, in aprevious blog on this concept, one person expressed a worry that she would not find a safe space in a church, and that instead of open discussion and exploration, there would “right answers” accompanied by judgment. It’s an important question!

I had suggested in that previous blog that third space might be a way for the church to facilitate public engagement with “end of life” issues. So, I was interested when visiting the Anglican Church of the Redeemer in Toronto (as part of the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Canadian Council of Churches) to discover that they are doing just that – on November 27 they are offering a panel discussion on palliative care, assisted death, and other related topics, with a doctor, a legal expert, a consent and capacity board member, and a theologian.

Let me offer some other examples.

Sometimes it might be as simple as offering space to community groups, perhaps free of charge, and with no “religious strings” attached. So, for instance, when I was visiting Yellowknife, I met some younger women who, though they were not active participants in Sunday morning worship, still considered the United Church to be “their” church, because that’s where they gathered two or three times a week for meetings and events held by various community outreach and environmental groups.


beaconsfield_sign[Beaconsfield United Church, Beaconsfield, Quebec.]

A couple of weeks ago, I visited Beaconsfield United Church in Montreal Presbytery (part of my “official” visit to Montreal and Ottawa Conference). That congregation, in their work of  “loving the neighbourhood,” had recognized that no programs for LGBTQ youth existed in the West Island of Montreal, and so a couple of years ago, they opened a LGBTQ Youth Centre, offering up church space for a permanent and dedicated Lounge,  a safe and welcoming environment for LGTBQ young people. In addition, centre staff offer support to parents, families, and friends of these youth, and have also connected with neighbourhood schools, helping to organize gay-straight alliances. Then, because many of the volunteers (both church and non-church) who help out at the centre are themselves LGBTQ, the congregation now offers space and support for two other groups – one for LGBTQ adults and another for LGBTQ seniors.

But what really caught my attention was the following statement:

“We [LGBTQ Youth Centre] are located within the Beaconsfield United Church building. We receive support from the church, an Affirming congregation that explicitly welcomes and celebrates LGBTQ people. However, the centre itself has no religious affiliation. All faiths (or lack thereof) are welcome!”

It’s that “no religious strings attached” approach that strikes a chord – which is included in the invitation to the adult groups as well. Now, it may well be that some people start asking faith questions; maybe even find a church home – but that’s not what this is all about. It’s offering space; it’s being committed to loving the neighbour.


St_Pauls-Grande_Prairie[St. Paul’s United Church, Grande Prairie, Alberta]

Organizing and supporting interfaith conversations is another way to engage in “third space ministry.” I came across a Facebook conversation started by Rev. Gordon Waldie in Grande Prairie, expressing concern about a Christian group in his community that held a public event with a speaker who offered a very negative take on Islam – so negative, in fact, that Muslims were contacting the mayor’s office with real worry. Gordon wondered if the United Church might offer a different voice, and, in partnership with Muslim leaders, develop some kind of “Islam 101” for the community, to help people understand more about Islam, about their neighbours, and in so doing create a stronger and more tolerant community. Rev. Waldie’s church, St. Paul’s United, is in the process of developing an information evening in January on just this point. What a vision of a congregation that loves the neighbourhood!

A couple of comments on my previous blog that talked about third space indicated that churches are already engaged in such ministry. I’d be interested to hear of other examples and possibilities… ideas that may find traction in other communities.