My Secret Fantasy

Well, either this or move to Medicine Hat. ;)

Another post that I have been hesitant to put up. Perhaps April 1 is an appropriate day to post this. Consider this a work of fiction, kind of.

It all started a few months ago while glancing through the local real estate ads. Or maybe it started earlier with snippets of ideas accumulated over a period of time. I am not sure exactly, and now it doesn’t matter.

There it was, a little church for sale. It reignited earlier thoughts of a building that could serve as a chapel.

I’m not sure why this particular building captured my imagination.

At first I tried to talk myself out of it. It was too small, kind of quirky, too small. But in response, I thought location, location, location.

It is situated a couple of blocks from the college campus, right in the middle of a neighborhood of apartments with students, young families, and single parents.

And the fact that it is small, makes it very approachable. It is a really simple building, basically a sanctuary and a fellowship room with a foyer in the middle.

I didn’t mean to, but suddenly I found myself fantasizing about the possibilities of a neighborhood parish, a space for being present in the neighborhood.

I wanted to call it Sanctuary, consisting of The Chapel on one side and The Table on the other, both for the purpose of providing space.

The Chapel would provide private space for people to encounter God in prayer and worship, and The Table would provide hospitality for people to encounter God through others.

Admittedly, I spent a considerable amount of time mentally remodeling and redecorating the building. Of course, it looked fabulous!

I wanted The Chapel to be an inviting, quiet place where anyone could just step in for safe, private space. I know that in hospitals, people use the chapel for prayer during times of need.

I don’t know if people in a community would feel welcome to use a neutral, quiet place of prayer and worship. Perhaps if the community or neighborhood knew that the building was for them and not for a congregation, they would feel welcome and invited, free to drop in.

The value of personal sacred space would be carefully guarded in the chapel. People would not be approached or targeted for conversation or ministry during their time in the chapel.

I couldn’t really find a single picture that captured the essence of the room, but these pictures morphed together would be close. Comfortable seating, arranged randomly and grouped for intimacy, with folding screens for areas of privacy. Peaceful background music, prayer books available, and of course candles.

It would also be fun to host open-mic sort of evenings in The Chapel with college kids and other musicians in the community.

The Table would simply be a coffee lounge type area open to anyone who felt like dropping in. In my fantasy, there would be coffee throughout the day with baked goods and a pot of soup to share with those who came by. A small library, free wifi, and a friendly host or hostess.

My hope would be that lonely seniors would gather, young moms who needed out of the house, college kids just hanging out, and other folks would feel comfortable to drop by and relax for awhile.

Probaby a little more casual than this picture, warmer wall color, cozier decor.

I would also want to host ultra-inclusive potluck type events at The Table for fellowship and communion.

I persistently alternated between pursuing these thoughts and dismissing their feasibility.

Of course the immediate obstacle was money. To start with, I have trouble with the idea of having ministry money wrapped up in buildings, but there is a point where a building can be a useful tool of ministry. So I decided that if God wanted me to have this building He would give it me. That’s realistic, huh?

Then I thought that perhaps I needed to take a step or two in order for God to give me this building. I mean really, how could He accomplish that if no one even knew I wanted the building? So I considered talking to some friends who are realtors. I also considered dropping in and talking to the pastor who was selling the building.

Those imaginary conversations were always awkward and ridiculous, so I didn’t pursue that. I also was aware that the small congregation selling the building probably needed the money.

Next, after weeks of listening to me, my husband teased me with the idea of buying it if it’s what I really wanted to do. So I toyed with that idea for a while.

I penciled out the reality of taking out a mortgage on non-income-producing investment property. In addition, there would be the monthly operating expenses. Ultimately, this would be a really expensive hobby for me. With three kids heading to college, it didn’t seem like a wise move for our family.

Not to mention, between work and homeschool, I didn’t have the time to pull this off alone, and I was hesitant to drum up support for “my vision.”

In the meantime, I drove by most days, making a trip past the building part of my new route through town. Until the fateful day when I realized my building had been sold.

Game over.

So I quit driving by. I didn’t really want to see the building converted or torn down. Sometimes I wondered if I missed an opportunity.

Sometimes I would read things from others that expressed the heart of what I wished. Listen to this from Ron Cole

Could we make the church the hub of the hood again. There are so many churches locked up for six and a half days a week, what would happen if we made them more accessable, like a neighborhood gathering place???a coffee pot, large pot of soup brewing. What would happen if it was the neighborhoods as much as it was the ??? churches.??? The opening words of John???s gospel, ??? God moved into the neighborhood???pitched his tent.??? Seems like a pretty hospitable picture???

The other day, after a couple of months, I decided to drive by and see if the building still stood. It was there. As I passed, I tried to read the sign out front.

At the top it said, A Place of New Hope. Interesting.

I didn’t catch what was next, so I drove around the block.

The next line said, Ideas for Ministry, Call 123-4567.


32 thoughts on “My Secret Fantasy

  1. Well this probably explains why I’m drawn to this blog.

    I don’t know if there’s a question here… but my answer would be YESSSSSS!!!

  2. Thanks for sharing this. I have had a VERY similar experience. There is a beautiful old church in our community that has sat empty for years. It was bought by a development who wanted to turn it into condos, but it isn’t the right neighbourhood for that (what was he thinking?).

    At any rate, walking by it one say during a prayer walk, I asked God to give us the building. The next day- the NEXT day- it was up for sale. I had all kinds of dreams for the space (similar to yours, though context specific).

    For months I walked past, imagining, praying and hoping. I even met with the agent selling the building and took a tour. Sadly, the interior was in disarray. We realized it would cost about a million dollars to buy and restore the space.

    Well, after more than a year and several real estate agencies, the for sale sign came down. Not sure what that means yet.

    Is the dream dead? If so, why can’t I stop thinking about it?


  3. Grace (and Jamie, too!),

    Welcome to my dream! ;^)

    My dream church isn’t even in my state…but it is the church where we were married and was my dad’s last preaching ministry before he retired. Right in the heart of a bursting and revitalized city. Best acoustics and kicking pipe organ. A few meeting rooms upstairs, the basement is a kitchen/fellowship hall area.

    The most stunningly beautiful building — truly a lovely historic building that we restored — that we could use to host amazing community musical performances….yeah…would love to start something like CovenantClusters in the different neighborhoods within walking distance and have this place available for the coming together times of celebration as well as community activities.

    …give the number a call, Grace!

  4. Oh Grace – this brought tears to my eyes. You are truly a visionary and God has implanted his desires into you.

    I totally know that feeling, wondering if you missed the boat. I remember a word of advice I once got from a friend when I felt so overwhelmed by what I thought God wanted me to do. I had great ideas but putting them into place seemed impossible. She said to me “you are a visionary – God shows you what he wants to happen but you are not nescessarily the one who has to make it all happen yourself.”…..that was so freeing to me.

  5. Grace, The picture you draw of this sanctuary resonates deep within me. It reflects the heart of our Father. It has elements of what I’d like to create in my neighborhood. I’m in the middle of a suburb (no where near Medicine Hat, fortunately) so its going to have to happen in my home. I want our neighbors to feel free to drop in for coffee and good conversation. Your idea of “place” works better than mine but I don’t think “place” is the driving factor. I’m counting on availability because I’m not the greatest conversationalist and we buy our coffee at Costco instead of Starbucks. I think if I make myself available to my neighbors, they will develop relationships.

  6. Wow Grace! Keep pushing on doors and see if they open.

    Sounds a bit warmer than Medicine Hat too. – Negative 5 degrees Celsius today :( Brrrrr!

  7. is this a side effect of having survived spiritual abuse, or what? are we all cycling into dissociative states? why is it that so many of us are within walking distance or regular driving paths of intriguing buildings that are/were available?

    me too.

    mine is a former home to a card and calendar design company, with lots of offices and meeting spaces, surrounded by woods. within walking distance for me, which is unbelievable, given that i only escape my little hovel about a couple hours a week.

    every time i see it, all i can think of is what a great space to have for things like a Center for Cultural Studies and Contextualization, media production, community mentoring , working with masters and doctoral students to help them strategize, shape, and manage their world-changing projects.

    yeah… definitely, yeah.

    could we, like, arrange to import some mini-mansions down here for some heavenly purposes, please?

  8. Grace,
    I related to this post because there was a season where I was looking at vacant church buildings to house a para-church ministry that would have included non-stop worship. As it is, God led us a different direction.

    This statement stuck out at me:
    “I don’t know if people in a community would feel welcome to use a neutral, quiet place of prayer and worship. Perhaps if the community or neighborhood knew that the building was for them and not for a congregation, they would feel welcome and invited, free to drop in.”

    Depending on the culture and atmosphere where you live, I think the greatest challenge you’d face with such a vision is convincing the community that it *was* for them, that it *was* neutral. There is a stigma about church buildings these days that is even stronger with the unchurched than it is with the wandering believers, let’s say. You would have to really bend over backwards to present it to the community as reclaimed “neutral” space and not “churchy” space. Maybe even knock off the steeple, if it has one. :)

    That said, it’s an admirable vision. Thank you for sharing it, and the story behind it. Keep us posted.

  9. Grace, I too was moved to tears by your story. When God is in something, well, he’s in it. And obviously he’s given you creativity and vision (and someone else the cash to buy the building). It will be interesting to see what happens…

  10. Grace, man isn’t God freakin’ crazy sometimes…you’re dreamin’, someone else is deamin’…a sign appears, ” A place of New Hope.”
    A a number…lets connect…share dreams. Fantasy…or fantastic…call Grace, if anything share your dream. Dreams have a gravity about them…when suddenly it becomes reality. Keep dreamin’, and inspiring and encouraging us to do the same. Peace…Ron+

  11. fred,
    It will be interesting to see what develops, whether I’m involved or not.

    I’m waiting to catch a person at the building. I think I would rather drop in than call.

    You would make a great friendly hostess!

    I tried to talk Mr. Mary into calling for me, since I’m a big chicken. ;)

    I loved hearing your story. Now I am curious about what’s going on with your building.

    Do you think you will get an opportunity to have your building? I was surprised to develop such an attachment to a place. I’ve always had kind of a vague dream about this. When I entertained the thought of this particular building, it was like the details poured in like a flood.

    I will keep you posted. In the meantime, I am becoming quite excited about my ordinary life ministry. ;)

    Thanks ruth,
    I have considered the possibility that God was just showing me what was going to happen there.

    Great thoughts. This was actually one of my main arguments in talking myself out of pursuing it (besides the $$). If I am not already living a life of hospitality in my home, what makes me think that I could/should do it somewhere else.

    Sonja and barb,
    I make all of my major life decisions based on the climate. ;) It was the deciding factor in which of the state colleges I chose. At this point in my life, any major moves will be lateral or south, not north.

    LOL brad,
    Who knew an edifice complex was a symptom of PTSD. Thanks for sharing your building dream. It is interesting to see how we give our dreams a specific location.

    You are so right about overcoming the church stigma to create a neutral space. This building isn’t especially “churchy” to begin with, and I think with a little remodeling and landscaping it could be quite welcoming.

    Thanks wilsonian, maria, and cindy!

    It was so great to read your post (that I quoted) right in the middle of my dreaming. It made me feel like maybe my dreams weren’t too crazy. I hope to get a chance to sit down with someone and hear about their dream for this location.

    Tom and Jerry, ;)
    I will call or stop in. I’m a little bit hesitant to end the fantasy. But who knows, maybe the reality will be interesting too.

  12. Grace – It’s so good of you to actually respond to all of your commenters – it really is over and above since you are so popular!

    I just wanted to add that it’s not that I think you should stay out of it – God is definately showing you for a reason. But a visionary has a gift of casting a vision, sharing a dream with others, and it just catches on and other people end up picking it and running with it. You know…like yeast.

    Maybe you will be doing some of the work – but when God dreams it – you don’t have to do all the work. I think your job is mostly to cast the vision that brings hope and creates initiative in others.

  13. jowiki,
    The things in my head are always very cool. Reality is sometimes a different story. ;)

    Your comments are encouraging to me for remembering that this isn’t something that I have to make happen. I can just step into whatever God has next for me. Thanks for sharing and I’ll be sure to keep you posted if anything comes of this.

  14. Grace~

    You have taken a step of faith even to share this “crazy” dream. Thanks for having the courage to do so! Now that you’ve seen just how “un-crazy” the idea is, and how many other have been given the same vision…Run, grab it! i have been mulling over and incubating a very similare dream, a small church-like building that would house a wellness center that offers hospitality and support to people going through a cadre of life changes (cancer, divorce, chronic illness, etc.) and also networks with local aith communities to teach them how to reach out and offer healing to the broken with whom we share community. The kingdom of God reuires envisioning, preparing and planning. (Matt 25) I’M IN!

  15. I have very mixed emotions about this post. On the one hand, I can most definitely relate. I have had very similar dreams.

    On the other, I am so “building-shy” at this point in my journey that I want to say, “Don’t get caught up in it!” Someone above already mentioned the “stigma” associated with “church buildings”, and I’m not sure that stigma is entirely a bad thing.

    I think that, like I just mentioned in another thread related to the intentions of leaders, the intentions and thoughts and desires might all be quite good and focused on what Father wants to do with/for/in his children.

    But somehow, it doesn’t seem to stay there. The building ends up being the point of connection, and it takes on “sacred” meaning. In a negative way.

    I humbly suggest that for all of us who have had these fantasies (you are most definitely not alone in this one, Grace), it is more a reflection of our desire to somehow reform our past traditions, rather than embark on the path of something completely new.

    I’m not convinced that the ministry of Jesus was one of reforming past traditions. I rather think that his mission was one of turning old traditions on their heads. Yet, in our institutional expression of Christendom, we have continued the very traditions he sought to disrupt.

    Rambling thoughts, and certainly I can’t claim to be completely God-inspired in them ;) Take it for what it’s worth, Grace. Your under no obligation to just accept my thoughts.

  16. I wrote: I’m not sure that stigma is entirely a bad thing.

    That seems confusing to me, the author! So let me explain:

    I think the fact that there is a stigma associated with church buildings is not necessarily a bad thing because it should serve as a red flag to us. The stigma is certainly well-earned (ouch!) and I think does more to reflect the reality of building-focused ministries.

  17. Steve,

    Well put.

    In my mind this statement is right on;

    But somehow, it doesn’t seem to stay there. The building ends up being the point of connection, and it takes on “sacred” meaning. In a negative way.

    It can be very difficult getting past of Wolfgang Simpson’s Point +1 .


  18. I could either write a few pages here, or a few sentences. I don’t know how to split the difference on this topic, so I’ll just write a few sentences and provide a link.

    A couple years ago I was exactly where Grace is now. My wife and I, and some friends found a building, leased it, remodeled it (from absolutely zero) and now we’re running it as a radically hospitable social venue smack in the middle of a historic college town nightlife district. Don’t do it unless God says go… the only tools we have had at our disposal is miracles. It’s been amazing.

  19. tracy,
    What a wonderful dream! Blessing to you in your pursuit.

    Thanks John!

    I share your concerns and they contributed to my hesitation. However, I also envision existing buildings used redemptively to serve the neighbors around them rather than serving a visiting congregation.

    I love what you guys are doing. Did you have some sort of financial backing for getting started?

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