‘Seven Sacred Spaces’

George Lings is a retired researcher with the Church Army, and also a companion of the Northumbria Community. He’s recently written a book entitled ‘Seven Sacred Spaces’. Basically, he’s looked at spaces common to monastic settlements and translated that to the spaces our lives in habit, both individually and corporately as a church. He is seeking to flesh out a balanced way of being community and being church that goes beyond the ‘bog standard’.

Here are his seven spaces – see what you think:

  1. Cell – obviously, the resident monastic has his sleeping/alone/prayer space. So do we – and by that, I don’t just mean out bedrooms etc…but that cell with in us – the place of encounter with God. We must inhabit this space. It’s the seat of encounter, transformation, relationship and growth. It is being alone with God and all that means.
  2. Chapel – this is the place of corporate prayer and worship. We’re all familiar with this I guess – and most of us will love some bits an not others. For many, this can be the most occupied space of our lives and so we call these spaces ‘sanctuaries’, ‘churches’ etc. There is, of course, a place for corporate public worship – but it’s not all there is!
  3. Chapter – in a monastery, this is the decision making place. Every church community does this differently, but it’s a crucial space. These days it can be reduced to ‘mere democracy’, which, in Baptist circles, really isn’t the point. It’s a place of discerning together the mind of Christ over and above our own perspective in order to reach unity. The question here is ‘what is the Spirit saying to the church?’ Another question here is ‘who gets to participate?’
  4. Cloister – in a monastery, these are the places between the spaces…the corridors. This is the place of chance encounter, infomal chats, chewing things over. These can be creative or destructive places, depending on how we are in them. This can be a missional space too – the encounters we have every day
  5. Garden – most monasteries needed to grow their food to be sustainable, and most monastic rules carried a commitment to ‘work.’ That is why monasteries produce beer, wine, and have farms and the like. Our work may not be in the realms of the church community, or we may be retired, but there are still things we turn our hands to, even in the confines of our own homes. It strikes me that there are a few places in the NT where Paul elevates the sense of ‘working with your hands’ and making a living. Very honourable. What is our work to do individually? And what is our work corporately? This might be a work of mission in the community too
  6. Refectory – this is the canteen, the dining room, the place of richest fellowship. If you’ve ever eaten in a monastery, you may know that you might expect to eat in rich silence, or to the sound of someone reading to you, but even in that, there is a sense of family and community. In our homes, for many of us, the key place is the kitchen table, or wherever we eat together. The sharing of food is both a leveller and a way to open up relationship. Church around food is very biblical (see the Corinthian church or the churches in Acts, for example), and is a key space. Faith and live worked out here is a different kind of approach to being in some kind of theatre. Of course, the table can be a missional space.
  7. Scriptorium – this is the place where manuscripts and texts we copied and preserved, and a place of learning. Think of the glorious Lindisfarne Gospels, with their amazing artistic work, and think scriptorium. But also, thing of any book before the technology of printing, and you have the scriptorium. Our churches (and our lives) need places of learning and growth in this way all the way through life – not just at the start of learning Christian basics. This, too, can be a missional space! The Lindisfarne Gospels were the equivalent of a church livestream or a flashy website – artistic tools of the day to share the news of the gospel.

George’s aim is not to suggest that every church renames a room to echo this. Not at all. He is drawing comparisons and noting that there’s more to church.

In a ‘village of God’, how might either the church community or the physical church space be transformed if there was a place for this full range of life, learning and development? I find the delineation of places to be a helpful prompt to thinking about how the life of church can look – not as a crusty institution – as a living community seeking to mediate the presence and message of Christ in our day.

Can you identify when any of these seven spaces have been significant in your own life and faith development?