Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Fresh Expressions of Bookshop

Update: full statement from Living Oasis here, plus links to a brochure with their vision for the new shops/centres.

Dave Walker blogs on the plans for a number of former Wesley Owen shops to be relaunched as 'Living Oasis' shops, complete with:

# Coffee shop to be open to all – Christian and non Christian
# Lounge area – to be used, for example, by Church youth groups
# Children’s Play Area – a supervised and safe place for children whilst Mum/Dad relaxes or does some shopping in peace and quiet!
# Meeting room for Church use
# Prayer ministry facility

A few days ago I read the latest Encounters on the Edge by George Lings of the Church Army. Encounters is a brilliant series of booklets, looking at new forms of church, church planting, and questions of church and mission for todays church. The latest is on the '7 sacred spaces' of monasticism - 7 characteristic places found within 'new' and old monasticism which express the life of the community.

They are, in no particular order:
Chapel - place of public worship
Chapter - place of decision making and ordering community life
Refectory - place of eating and hospitality, community and service.
Cell - place of private prayer
Cloister - 'inbetween' space, unstructured, allows for informal interaction
Garden - place of manual work
Scriptorum - place of study.

There's a balance between places of work (the work of prayer, study and manual labour), public and private, formal and informal spaces, spaces where there are specific forms and 'rules' and places where things are more informal. Lings notes that in many churches, the only one of these spaces on offer is the 'chapel', but more and more churches now have a kitchen/community space, prayer chapel, office etc. Our local Yeovil Community church has a main auditorium, meeting rooms (chapter), places for prayer, and plenty of informal space for conversation and community life. There's also offices and workplaces, and a cafe (currently being re-thought).

So reading the bookshop proposals, lights began to go on all over the place. We have traditionally modelled the church's public presence on the Chapel, the place of public worship, and the other 6 spaces have had to fight for space around it (or in many cases simply don't exist). Cafe church is an attempt to put the Refectory at the heart of church life. What about Bookshop church, where the Scriptorum is central, but also with a balanced use of space for Refectory, Cell, Cloister (informal space = lounge) and Chapter? That's what the above list sounded like to me.

Except that it's not clear if these are intended to be the hub of an intentional Christian community, or simply a resource to the wider church. Can there be an intentional Christian community based around a high street workplace, the way that monasticism is an intentional Christian community built around a place of prayer, work and study? Would it be a church? (Does it matter?)

Our local bookshop functions a bit like the 'cloister' in Lings' list - I'm constantly bumping into people I know whilst browsing, and it's a good place for conversation and networking, as well as finding and buying books. I know of several churches who have added in bookshops to their site: it would be fun to do it the other way round: to start as a bookshop and add in places for prayer, worship, and the spaces needed to sustain and nurture a community life.

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