The ancient Celts described spiritually significant spaces where one could catch a glimpse of the divine as “thin places”, but in the hustle and bustle of modern life is your church making the best use of its property beyond Sundays? Scott Guyatt writes.
There is a Celtic saying, that heaven and earth are only three feet apart … but that in thin places, the distance is even shorter.
The notion of thin places suggests that there are times and places where the sense of the sacred is almost tangible. For many, these places are in the wild—on wind-swept craggy mountain tops, or looking out over the wild waves, or even way out in the desert.
Some folks will travel for a long time to find such a thin place to sit and rest, discover and encounter.
In the busyness of the modern town, city or suburb, thin places are hard to find, and carving out the time to sit still long enough is harder still. We cram our lives moment-to-moment with activity, and we cram our towns and cities with more and more, until there is neither silence, nor space: the thin place could be right under our feet and we would barely know it.
At least that’s how it seems to me.
In the midst of this are the places we call “church”. Places we gather to worship, mostly on Sunday mornings; places set aside to the very purpose of collectively being in God’s presence; places that are, in one sense, our attempt to create a thin place; places that for many of us within the church, offer exactly that, a thin place in which we gather.
This is one of the factors that cause us such pain when we are forced to let one of our church buildings go.
It strikes me then, as a little unfortunate that many (definitely not all) of our churches sit closed, locked and empty for most of the time—only open on Sundays.
Here is a space, and a place that could become a valuable resource for a world starved of thin places and they’re right there in the middle of our busy, bustling neighbourhoods.
I can’t help but wonder what it might be like if we made a concerted effort to keep our church buildings (by which I don’t mean the hall or the office!) open during the week. And if we let our neighbourhood know they were welcome to come and sit, to contemplate, to meditate, to pray. And if we made a small, inviting, comfortable space with a few simple aids to prayer and contemplation.
What stops us throwing open our doors to our neighbourhood and inviting them in to seek a thin place? Security? Insurance? These things are not insurmountable.
I wonder—particularly at Christmas time when sense of busyness is more potent than any other time of the year, and paradoxically when the search for meaning is more immediate—whether throwing open of the doors of the church, and inviting outsiders in to see if they find a thin place might be a gift we can offer our communities.
There’s almost nothing to lose, and there’s a lot to be gained.
What if every church threw open its doors?