“Life without community has produced, for many, a life style consisting mainly of a home-to-work-and-back-again shuttle. Social well-being and psychological health depend upon community. It is no coincidence that the ‘helping professions’ became a major industry in the United States as suburban planning helped destroy local public life and the community support it once lent.”
I'm finishing up the book "THE TANGIBLE KINGDOM" and towards the back of the book the author refers, in reference to community, to something called THE THIRD PLACE. He's using the terminology coined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg in his 1990 book THE GREAT GOOD PLACE. In it Oldenburg says that the First place (Home) and Second place (work) provide for us means of relationships and sustinance, but that we need a Third place--where we can be known on another level.
I know, right now you are singing the "Cheers" song--"You want to go where everybody knows your name". But isn't it funny that a TV show from the 80's captured the essence of community and we still refer to it some 20 years later.
Churches used to be the Third place. When the church was the center of the community culture, you were known in that place (culture and church were more similar then than now-agree?) as parties and gatherings took on more of a feeling of "community". Not so anymore. Can anyone remember what it was like when it was that way?
Third places are still essential to the culture of a local community. I live in a small rural town with a "picturesque" downtown square. I regularly hear people say that they remember "when" the downtown area was the place to go on the weekends. That was their third place.
We have people who are trying to recreate that in our town now--not as it was, but as it could be as a gathering space for friends and family (Thanks to Marianne and Bill for bringing this back to our attention) and people who come to town notice this and remark "this is a happening little place down here". Somehow in our own psyche it does encourage us when we find Third Places (be it a McDonald's coffee shop, or another local hangout) where people know you on another level.
Will the church ever return to THIRD PLACE? I don't know . I can't see the culture coming to our coffee shops and bookstores and things inside our buildings. Maybe this is just the call for us to all "go" and "be" in the culture that we are called to. There are far more ministry opportunities in these "THIRD PLACES" than we'll ever find inside the walls of a church dwelling.