Thin Places and Third Places

I was reading through ‘Exiles’ last night and it occurred to me that one of the key practical differences between Forge and Thin Places is the third places we focus on.

From what I observe, Forge tends to focus on more secularized spaces, so you’ll read Mike Frost talking about emerging initiatives in coffee shops, pubs, shoe stores, art exhibitions and the like.

By way of contrast, Thin Places tends to focus on more sacralized spaces, so you’ll read us talking about alternate spirituality festivals, neopagan community spaces and the like.

So we operate in different spheres. Or do we? You see, this distinction I am drawing needs to be tempered by recognition that one of the signposts of post-modernity is the breakdown of sacred-secular dichotomies. There are significant areas of overlap. For example, you’ll also see us involving ourselves in pagans-in-the-pub gatherings and spirituality-based art exhibitions where the lines between our respective approaches become very blurred. And, Ferals aside for one moment, most of the people we interact with frequent urban coffee shops, pubs and shoe stores and are amongst the types most likely to open up on spirituality related questions, so its not as if Forgers wont be encountering the same people, we just encounter them in different contexts. Finally, few who visit the Mind Body Spirit festivals will be left in any doubt about the commercial motivations of many of the store holders.

Makes me wonder if it would be better to speak of sacralized SECULAR spaces and secularized SACRED spaces!

But however we frame it there are real differences between these third places and this does shape our respective missiological responses. In the third places I incarnate into, spirituality related questions are typically far closer to the surface than you would expect them to be in a coffee shop or shoe store, even when a common individual may be in view, so we’ve spent a lot more energy on forging new approaches to post-modern apologetics and learning from other religions. But conversely I suspect we're encountered more suspicion as to our motivations as to why we are in such spaces, so outside the normal comfort zones of Christians (Are you safe? Are you open?), than we would in that coffee shop or shoe store. And we’ve struggled a lot more in terms of building coherent communities given the more transient nature of these spaces. So there are different opportunities and different challenges, even though we share a common commitment to incarnational mission.

So in considering all this I am led to ask, are there third places out there that none of us are connecting with yet? I’m sure there are, and I’m sure that will lead to even more diversity. I just hope we can integrate all these different perspectives one day.

2 thoughts on “Thin Places and Third Places

  1. Matt,
    Great post. I agree with your assessment. I think we (Forge and Thinplaces) have the same missional and contextual drive, but this looks a little different because of the contexts we emphasize.
    I do think that there are an endless amount of Third Places that we’re missing, however. For example, I don’t see anyone intentionally involved in sport-related Third Places.


  2. I’d like to see, in view of your Third Places post, some further serious reflections on how “captive” we are to capitalist consumerism. I pose this point because this seems to me to work in favour of hyper-individuality and prevents the meaningful formation and experience of communitas.
    In this regard the current fixation on interpreting recent “secularism” remains quite captive to the commentaries and assumptions of neo-Marxists who anticipated years ago the utter demise of religion. It has not happened. What should arrest our attention is the insight of Marx about capitalist economics and its socially dislocating forces. The anomie experienced in modern urbanity is as acute as the yearnings for communitas while paradoxically those wanting communitas still practice hyper-individuality. The dog chases its tail!
    Interesting to note that the sociologist Peter Berger has overturned his prior commitment to the secularisation thesis. Instead he recognizes how religion (and the frontiers of religions in new forms) has accelerated.
    If we take seriously the fact the “re-enchantment” has ensued all the way alongside of “Enlightenment/Modernity” (eg Swedenborg, Blake, the New England transcendentalists, Goethe and the romantics, Theosophy etc) then we do need to revise the view of an all-encompassing homogeneous “modernity”. The rejection of that homogeneous modernity in the escape to “postmodernity” might itself simply be a fly caught in a fly-trap of its own making.
    Human religiosity has been a constant factor in history.
    To what extent are reifying the world around us? To what extent are we caught up in neo-romanticising about the distant past?
    Nowadays plenty of people have developed their sacral rites and rituals, and various networks have resacralised the modern world. While there are those who are agnostic about religiosity, it is a mistake to think that this agnosticism is the primary or sole outlook in today’s First World. Yes responses to the agnostic are needed, but one need only intuit the resacralisation of new spiritualities and the enduring force of major religions in the West (Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic, folk religions) to recognise that Christians face a myriad of tasks.
    A reassessment of the projected picture of “modernity” is needed. I think the baby is dumped in the bathwater as some Christians have a “temper tantrum” about the shortcomings of their childhood church experiences. I hope that spiritual maturity will surge to the foreground and be at the centre of such deliberations. The “tantrums” strike me as deja vu (I heard it in the early 1970s, and it was heard before then, and again before then and so on back we go). Funny how cyclical it all seems, which reminds me of passages in Ecclesiastes.


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