Rethinking Church Space
This past weekend, First Pres Hayward spent the weekend at Castro Valley’s annual Fall Festival, sharing about our Tiny Homes Project. This pilot project will put six tiny homes on our church parking lot to help individuals transition from homeless to housed and gain a pathway to housing stability.
While the project has been facing some bureaucratic delays (mainly due to the lack of precedent for coding and permitting around tiny homes), over 550 neighbors signed on to show their support of the project throughout the weekend. Hundreds more toured our demo home and expressed their excitement for what we are doing.
Through the work of the Holy Spirit, we are grateful to join a growing movement of churches that are rethinking how to use church space to address the housing crisis in the Bay Area. We hope that more worshipping communities will choose to see Jesus in their houseless neighbors, and put their resources, their security, and even their insurance policies on the line, to fight for every person in our community to sleep with a roof over their heads.
As a new member to the First Pres staff team, I’m thankful that the Tiny Homes Project is just one of the many ways that the First Pres community is rethinking about our church space- not just as a place for congregants to gather and worship, but also as a resource for meeting tangible needs in the community.
Because we have existed for over 100 years and own close to 24,000 square feet of church property, we feel compelled to steward our space to truly love our neighbors. On any given week, the church not only provides space for services and church meetings but also for the following programs, many of which meet for no charge:
- made-to-order hot breakfasts for 100 neighbors in need, every Sunday
- showers for the houseless in our community, twice a month
- overnight parking for neighbors living in cars, every night from 7pm-7am
- a weekly afterschool tutoring program for local elementary school students
- youth drumline rehearsals
- community badminton, basketball, and other sport leagues
- member meetings for Girl scouts and Boy scout troops
- MADD and Al-Anon gatherings
- office space for several nonprofit organizations
- foster parent support groups
- homeowners association meetings
- Guide Dogs for the Blind and 4-H meetings
This process of rethinking church space is not always easy. Or clean. Or drama-free.
Neighbors have complained about “blight” and declining property values in the neighborhood. Some have expressed concern about attracting drugs and crime to the area. A few have even threatened to take legal action against us.
We hear and acknowledge these concerns, and regularly wrestle with our own limitations as a church. There is more litter lining our property. Our parking lot, at various times, is exceedingly full. On rare occasions, we have had to deal with tough situations or mentally ill neighbors. We are having to have conversations about if/when/why/how we interface with law enforcement.
Yet God’s temple, as Jesus stated, has always been designed to be a “house of prayer for all the nations.” In the cleansing of the temple, Jesus condemned the acts of religious leaders who created barriers to accessing God, especially in the Court of the Gentiles. Jesus publicly decried systems that profited from the spiritual pursuit of others, especially those who were historically marginalized and excluded. He made clear that God’s temple must be made accessible to every person- regardless of race, age, gender, language, nationality, dwelling place, addiction history, income, sexual orientation, immigration status, etc.- which means our church spaces today must be as well.
Most importantly, Christ’s ministry reminded us that God’s presence no longer is restricted to a physical building, but is made manifest through the Church - not a building, but a people called out to be visible manifestations of God’s shalom in the world.
Our prayer as a church is that the Tiny Homes Project at First Pres would come to be seen as the norm, and not the exception. That the hundreds of churches throughout this area would become experts at building open doors and not erecting walls. That we would creatively use our spaces and our resources to cultivate shalom in our neighborhoods. That the space that we inhabit would matter, and that the places that we create and possess would reflect glimpses of the kingdom of God.
Lord, may it be so.