Where Everybody Knows Your Name

This post is a response to Brandon‘s response to my question:

What is it about church/the bar that means the bar isn’t a replacement for church?

I started to respond in his comments, but the response was getting lengthy enough that I thought I’d move it over here.

Since moving to the US I’ve had a hard time adjusting to the different understanding of “neighbourhood” that seems standard here. I’ve found the way its expressed hard to adjust to and feel like it rarely happens in what would seem to me a coherent sense (I’m thinking of at least having residences, shopping, churches, entertainment close enough together that for some people walking between them is a regular part of behaviour). That happens in some larger cities and occasional other spots, but is rare.

Probably the place where I get the strongest feeling of community here is in the local coffee shops. I was at Common Ground today and had conversations with seven different people, some of whom I have known for a while and some of whom stopped to ask me questions. The number is perhaps a little lower usually, but there are a number of us who frequent the place and with the addition of wifi it’s even more common for people to spend long periods of time there.

That space is probably one of the strongest “community” locations I’ve found myself in for some time. I think that (to use a term very popular at Calvin) an intentional focus on expressing “worship” together through some sort of ritual is the one box in my understanding of church that this coffee shop experience doesn’t check. It fits much of what Steve Collins talks about in his discussion of ‘third place’ here and here. There is no explicit focus on being transformative but the profiling of locally produced art, the interest in fair trade issues and the space for groups to congregate hints in that direction.

None of our attempts to fashion ‘church’ is entirely effective and intentional or not, this feels like a pretty good attempt. There are many questions, but the one I’m most often left asking is how to move forward from this place?

ADDENDUM: I should probably add that these are early days. Over time it will become clearer whether the initial sense of community deepens and grows, and that will be more telling.


  1. what is church anyway

    These thoughts come largely in response to James’ question and post about the nature of the church experience. It should be noted that I rather enjoy trading posts back and forth like this when neither James nor I is trying to prove the other wrong. …