Proximity Project is an initiative working to orient and reorient churches to engage and serve their neighborhoods through the built environment. In the coming months, I hope to put more flesh on the bones of these various ideas of serving neighborhoods, the built environment, human flourishing, and all the ways they interrelate for good or for ill.
To begin this conversation, our thinking must first be reoriented to understand and recognize the importance of space and place in our daily lives and in our communities. For too long we have taken for granted and overlooked the physical places we inhabit. We have neglected to consider how they develop our everyday storylines within the Great Redemption Story. If we trust that all of creation speaks of our Creator, then even our urban landscapes are testaments. This means that beauty, truth, and redemption echo in parks, pedestrian plazas, and city monuments; we simply need to be alert students listening and watching for the fingerprint of our Creator on these cultural creations. Remember, the Word became flesh. Some days it feels like a glorious game of I Spy.
The incredible news is we are active players in this magnificent game. In the biblical calling to seek the welfare of the city, we are invited to be co-creators in the setting of this Great Redemption Story, to unveil His fingerprint through our own creative, messy, and fragile fingerprints. What an honor and an opportunity – to build houses and plant gardens that speak of who God is and remind us of our humanity! So broken yet so loved. It is time we cast a vision for the setting of our stories, to reorient ourselves to its significance in our lives.
The Church, a central agent for carrying forward the Great Redemption Story, must necessarily consider how the space within and outside her walls either reflects God’s goodness and contributes to human dignity or detracts from these truths. To endeavor this, I encourage churches to begin by asking the nascent questions. These are the questions that get at the root of human needs and flourishing in our cities and neighborhoods. They call us to embrace a bigger picture and a longer view. They do not prescribe the quick fixes or easy returns. They suggest looking beyond the needs of the particular church to the larger needs of the neighborhood. They often require a reorienting from the current questions.
What do these questions look like in the context of the built environment? Nearly two years ago I met with some of the pastoral staff at First Baptist Church San Antonio. I have a personal connection there and know the heart of this particular church for being at the city development table. This is where I was first introduced to the idea of nascent questions. Here are a few examples:
- Current question: How can two Sunday school classes and a weekday study best share one room?
- Nascent question: Who in this city could benefit from this space?
- Current question: How long before we run out of space for programming?
- Nascent question: How well do we know the venue schedulers and shopkeepers in this city?
- Current question: What kind of construction will city regulations allow?
- Nascent question: What kinds of space does our city need?
- Current question: How much parking does our church need?
- Nascent question: How can we meet parking needs without creating an empty lot for the rest of the week?
No doubt these are challenging questions that require time and tenacity to answer. I am thankful for churches like First Baptist Church San Antonio that are actively engaging them. While the answers are not always clear, asking the right questions is the best place to start.
Do you have some examples of nascent questions? If so, I’d love for you to share. Let’s brainstorm this together.