Saturday, February 27, 2010

Third Spaces (an update)

Third Space is that space that is neither yours nor mine, but one where each of us comes in contact with the other, and each is allowed to feel at home.

Some of the most common Third Spaces we know surround familiar brands. Starbucks is a place for encounters of long friends, and long-lost friends, not to mention making casual encounters where the “decaf, vanilla, mocha, latte, grande” becomes a person named “James", who works at the jewelry store in the mall, which you always pass by, and never go in, pining for what you might be able to give to or receive from that special someone. The Third Space I came across most immediately in Santa Maria was my local Albertson's. I have had some great meetings there, impromptu and planned, because it is a hub for the activity of Orcutt.

Some of the increasingly popular Third Spaces are online communities. We have a few in the church name, with a Facebook Fan page ( )and a Twitter account ( ). Facebook and Twitter have evolved from such early adopters of online communities as MySpace, Friendster, and even Yahoo Groups, which are email chatboards. Use of these media allows the participation in a conversation, unlike a static webpage does.

The difference might be akin to the difference between a map, and having a GPS with the sound turned on. For each action you make, the media responds with its own action helping to update and change the way you interact and get about in reaching your intended goal. These interactions have become so important that the church, and Christian communities have also created some similar forums, like 7Villages (A United Methodist Online Forum), MyChurch and Xianz, which were created as “sanitized” versions of MySpace and Facebook. Yet the overwhelming reality of being “in the world, and not of it” has prevailed as pastors, and Christians of all varieties have turned to the larger community, and shared what God has done to help others in those communities meet Christ.

Santa Maria St. Andrew has a commitment to helping people meet Christ where they are, and reaching out to our larger communities, Orcutt, Santa Maria, Santa Barbara County, California, the United States, and our world. As the spaces for social networking have changed, from the town square, to the local barbershop, to the Church, into the realm of Service Clubs (like Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis and Elks) and back to “town-square” type of venues, like Starbucks and the local bar, developments in the internet have allowed Third Spaces to generate even around the world in a central location based on topics of common interest.

As we come together in these Third Spaces, my hope is that we will find ways to display our hope in Jesus Christ, being transformed by the work of God within us, and thereby bringing about real and meaningful change in the community. One of the great advantages to gathering in Third Spaces is that the needs of the people are bared clearly before us, as long as we choose to use these Third Spaces as places to interact, not only with one another, but with others who enter into such a space.

I am reminded that we go into Third Spaces with a goal in mind. Our goal is spelled out in our Mission and Vision statements, developed for Santa Maria St. Andrew UMC. They define how we intend to live as people of Christ in the world we live. Mission Statement of Santa Maria St. Andrew UMC, To serve God by sharing, teaching and living the Word”. Vision Statement of Santa Maria St. Andrew UMC, Build Disciples; Grow in Faith; Serve in Christ's Name”

I have been so struck by Third Spaces, that I am adding a little more background, and a testimonial of Third Space, for you to read and consider.

Facebook as the new “Third Place”?

Filed under:Church, Facebook, Mission, Web/Tech posted by Ryan Bolger on February 12, 2010 @ 11:15 pm @

In his book The Great Good Place, written almost twenty years ago, Ray Oldenburg wrote about the great “third place” in our lives — not home, not work, but a third place where we relax and socialize with others– barbershops, coffee houses, parks, etc. A place to have civil discourse with others in our locale — talking and shooting the breeze both with those who think like us but also with those who do not share our perspective on all things. Oldenburg laments that these third places are diminishing in popularity.

At the same time, some have suggested that maybe we should not call for coffee shops to return but perhaps it is churches who ought to re-create this third space – that besides work and home the person ought to be deeply connected to a faith community. The characteristics of the third place: a source of renewal, banter, serious discussion, all happening within walking distance from the home, ought to characterize the church — not just the secular third place.

No doubt, we must agree with Oldenburg — our participation has diminished in third places. Where are we spending our time? We are not just bowling alone, as some would say. Many are finding a sense of community online. They are spending their free time catching up with their friends and acquaintances on social networking sites, and increasingly that is Facebook. Has Facebook become this third place? Quite possibly, with some major tweaks. Although it is a place of deep connection and identity formation, it is definitely a different kind of space than the barbership or the physical church building.

As danah boyd (intentionally lowercase) has said, “networked publics” differ from physical communities in at least four ways: persistence, searchability, replicability, and invisible audiences. Persistence – people have access to you 24/7. Searchability — people can find you and what you are up to. Replicability – what you write/say/photograph/video can be copied again and again. Invisible Audiences — you have no sense of who is staring at you – who is reading your wall – is it your friend, boss, or grandma?

Clearly, these four aspects of online social networking offer a different understanding of community than Oldenburg — they limit some aspects and augment others. Could it be that we are seeing not a poorer sense of community, just a different kind of community emerging?

Just as some envisioned the church as Oldenburg’s type of community offline, what about envisioning what the church can be through boyd’s categories? Clearly, to dream of Oldenburg’s community in an online environment is nostalgic and misses the mark. How about dreaming about what God might be doing in these four new aspects of ‘networked publics’: cultures of persistence, searchability, replicability, and invisible audiences?

To compare online community to offline community has limited benefit. Online community will always be significantly different than its offline counterparts. But might we see God’s goodness there, might we see practices of forgiveness, service, love of of the other? Of course, redemption is possible in any culture. Better than holding up online community to an arbitrary standard, perhaps we need to spend some time re-imagining what the reign of God might look like in these new virtual cultures.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Off-site "Office" hours

I have for a long time, wanted to have "office hours." But since I work from home, my office is just another bedroom in my flat and it is not practical nor comfortable for people to "drop in" to see me. Or not as comfortable as it is when a pastor has an office separate from their home.

In the International Church, our bible studies, prayer groups and fellowship opportunities happen in our members' homes and many of our events happen in the west of Hamburg, which is about 45 minutes from the city center. But many of our people live in the North of Hamburg and the 1 1/2 hour-drive or the convoluted public transportation route discourages those people from participating in our various groups and activities. SO I decided to begin "office" hours in the north of Hamburg at a local Starbucks in a new mall. The meeting area is large and open and nobody keeps track of how long you sit in their chairs and how many drinks you order...

So, after my first "office" hours I made the following observations:

· In Germany, Starbucks doesn't open until 9:00... how much business happens in the US Starbucks' before 9:00... probably most of it!

· I got to the mall pretty early and as I set up at one of the tables and waited for the Starbucks to open, I watched the cleaners at the various stores. It was fun to see them “line the field”, getting ready for the day.

· "Oh" I thought, "They opened a new Apple store downstairs."

· Like many coffee shops, I like to witness the mix of regulars and transient visitors

· I sat and worked for about two hours, people watching and working on my sermon, expecting to run into someone I knew... When one of my people showed up I was surprised. "Hey, someone came to visit me!" It was a good feeling.

In this manner, I will continue to meet with people in my off-site "office."

Posted by Krista S. Givens at


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