Creating Conversation: ‘Third spaces’ help us to gather, share and rest

Wilder Snail Grocery and Coffee in Strathcona. UGM photo

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This pandemic season has accentuated the reality that there remain many people, understandably, that are not coming into church buildings to join in weekly worship. While the hope for ‘getting back to normal’ continues, perhaps this is a time to consider other spaces where we can connect and care for one another well.

A ‘third space’

The concept of a ‘third space’ was new to me, or so I thought, but when it was explained I could instantly picture many of the third spaces I have had over the course of my life.

The vintage and second hand shops I would go to just to visit the owners and meet the interesting wave of characters that happened to pop in that day. The coffee shop I spent hours and hours doing school work in, only to befriend the baristas and other neighbourhood folks. The front yard of my friends that live right beside my church, where we can play socially distanced games and catch up with friends that also live in the neighbourhood that are walking by.

The Garden of Eatin’ at Vancouver First Christian Reformed Church at Victoria and 11th. UGM photo

A third space is a place that is not your home (first place) or your work / other main place that you might spend your days (second place); rather it is a third place where you feel like you belong, are known and gather for some kind of shared hobby, interest or geographic location.

This season we are living in right now has required us to be stretched and maybe get creative about different ways to connect and engage with each other. The concept of a third space can give us an interesting framework for how we can make those connections in a time that feels so disjointed.

And the church, in particular, is uniquely qualified to intentionally create spaces for these gathering places to take form.

Side walk sales

If you’ve ever spent time in the Downtown Eastside, especially on East Hastings Street, you have probably noticed the side walk sales. For about three to four blocks every day, people lay out blankets, set up lawn chairs and sell, trade or gift their finds. Music is often playing, people talking loudly, and you come across things you have not seen IRL since 1995.

A unique third space on Hastings Street in the Downtown Eastside. UGM photo

Like any neighbourhood, there are still disagreements, misunderstandings and conflicts, but more often than not people are being greeted, stories are being shared and jokes told.

This community has refined and created a culture of third space that is something to be celebrated, to be taken notice of and to be incorporated into our own lives. Often, they show up to the same place to see the same people and are simply present with one another; that is rest, and that is life.

I don’t know about you, but I struggle to sit still and not be productive. This season has taught me many things, and one of them is that my body was not meant to be working and doing all the livelong day.

It seems to me that when God highlights rest both in the creation story and in the Jesus story, it is not just a footnote that we can shove to the side. Rather, they are focal points that can teach us to be present with ourselves, with each other and with the Creator.

Spiritual rest, in community

Eden Cafe on Hastings Street was initiated by Coastal Church.

In an article posted by TED earlier this year “The 7 types of rest that every person needs,” the author Saundra Dalton- Smith, outlines many of the things we would normally think of when it comes to rest – physical, mental, sensory, creative, emotional and social.

But in an interesting twist, the seventh type of rest is spiritual, and while this can be done in solitary through prayer or meditation, it can also be done in shared spaces through belonging and community involvement. Does that sound familiar? Kind of like the creation and Jesus stories?

Creating spaces

So how do we create these spaces? Well sometimes it is as simple as showing up, and then showing up again and then again. Cafes. Parks. Church basements. Condo roof tops.

Or maybe we can create them. Does your front lawn have space for a picnic table with a welcome sign for neighbours to sit down? Does your church have a place for some benches or a life size chess board? Churches are gathering spaces that have limitless possibilities.

Kari Bergrud

It can be hard to slow down and just be present in a space where the only requirement is that you show up, and yet, it is the very thing that will give us life and rest.

So, be like our DTES neighbours. Show up for each other, be present with one another and create spaces where rest and life are celebrated.

Perhaps it is in resting in these third spaces that we can discover the presence of Christ anew. What third space might you enter or create this season?

Kari Bergrud is Manager of Program Development and Church Relations at Union Gospel Mission, a Christian non-profit organization in the DTES, and is a graduate of the University of Victoria, with a MA in Community Development.

Having been with UGM for almost 10 years, Kari has worked with faith communities and their leaders to resource them as they pursue poverty alleviation in their cities.

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1 comment for “Creating Conversation: ‘Third spaces’ help us to gather, share and rest

  1. Very insightful. Very timely. A relevant piece of writing during a time in our world where many struggle to socially connect. Thanks!

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