Ideas for a church in Charlottesville

Z. Bryant
3 min readMar 29, 2022

At long last, spring is here. After two years of fear and isolation, the smiles (and schnozes!) of beloved sisters and brothers are emerging like crocus blossoms from the snow. We are finally moving toward a time of clarity, rest, and healing.

Our little church is ready to molt and—as a designer—I’m deeply excited about the particulars of this next season of transformation. Here’s my friend Dietrich writing of such a time back in 1935:

The restoration of the church will surely come only from a new type of monasticism which has nothing in common with the old but a complete lack of compromise in a life lived in accordance with the Sermon on the Mount in the discipleship of Christ.

I’ve cobbled together seven ideas I believe to be worthy of consideration by our leadership and congregation. I could very happily discuss any one of these at great length and with great enthusiasm, but will start with a simple description of each. After all, design must begin with shared vision.

1. Embrace holiness

What would a “complete lack of compromise” look like in our time and place? We are situated perfectly to be a city on a hill to the University and should conceive of ourselves as such. There are students, staff, and faculty who wish to fall in love with the Law and live within its limits. Our church should energetically pursue a more visible orthodoxy that reveals a clear departure from the popular lies around us.

2. Become a meeting house

We should encourage and equip member households to form beautiful, overlapping and intentional communities. Groups like this form naturally around workplaces, hobbies, life stages, neighborhoods, etc. The point is that these individual and families are proximate to one another—already in each other’s lives throughout the week—but also resilient and decentralized.

The focus of these groups should be knowledge of the stories of the bible, its gospel, and of particular places and the people who live there. This is accomplished through committed friendships among established households. It is easy to imagine the primary work of deacons happening in and through these organic groups. Over time, we will build the skills necessary to truly welcome strangers into wholeness.

Additionally, this decentralization will allow our church to become a “church of churches” focusing on the narrow work of doctrine. By gathering for corporate, public worship on Sundays and at key points throughout the year, we will receive the sacraments together and be formed in an ordinary liturgy of unity through diversity while also being steeped in beautiful orthodoxy.

3. Start a school

Our existing infrastructure should become a place for education in moral foundations throughout the week. What’s happening in Sunday School and Great Beginnings should be happening all the time for all sorts of people. The incredible work of members like Graham Sharf provides an ample starting point.

4. Build a chapel

We should build a timeless and sacred place on our grounds for the intimate work of ministry and community. Always open—a true sanctuary.

5. Establish gardens

We should become involved in land care and producing plants for food and medicine. We have been given stewardship of a productive place and should explicitly model the creational mandate. Imagine capturing and using sunlight and water in ways that draw admiration and interest from our neighbors.

6. Invite residents to live a rule

Housing full-time residents—perhaps in a fellowship or croft model—would allow the chapel to be open and the gardens to remain productive even when the school is closed. Individuals may submit for a time to a shared rule of life and model a new monasticism to our congregation and our broader community—providing space and time for contemplative practice and spiritual direction that isn’t just “programming.”

7. Focus on making disciples

The reason for our fellowship and a deeper participation in the revelation of creation and providence is to become intimate with each other in ways that lead to repentance and to righteousness. We must become, again, a community of knowing and being known. A community of confession.

To become a member must be to take on the yoke of Christ—and to take seriously the life of resurrection. If we do this one thing well, our missions will be as many as our membership and glory will belong to God alone.

Peace be with you.