November 2017 - Seven Sacred Spaces

Seven Sacred Spaces


The Church Council at St Nick's, Dunnington, is spending some time reflecting on the church's life. To do this it is using an idea called Seven Sacred Spaces which imagines the pattern of the life of a church compared with the life found within monasteries, as expressed in their architecture. It was written in response to the author's experience of a number of local congregations where he had met a 'thinness of community, threadbare welcome, and disconnectedness of worship from life'.

So imagine, if you will, the seven different spaces you would find if you visited Rievaulx or Fountains Abbey in their heyday, or Ampleforth today: The Cell (a monk's private room, a place where you confront yourself and God); The Chapel (gathering with others for worship); Chapter House (where we make decisions together); Cloister (a place for planned and surprise encounters); Garden (shared work and creativity); Refectory (eating and hospitality); and Scriptorium (passing on knowledge).

This is turning out to be a really helpful way to reflect on the life we live together, but also the balance of life – and monks were really into balance! It can't all be meetings, just as it can't all be eating. Unfortunately, many churches think that 'church' is only about the 'Chapel', and neglect the other areas, which leaves them, sometimes fatally, off balance.

What interests me about this is not simply its application to people of faith and the church families that gather together for worship. This pattern, because it is practical and human, can be used by all of us, faith or no faith, to reflect on the healthy balance of our own lives, using the collected monastic wisdom of the centuries. So we can ask ourselves:

  • Do I spend enough time alone, or too much?
  • Am I being stimulated by regular social interaction?
  • Do I contribute to the decision making processes within my community?
  • Am I able to put myself in places of encounter (both easy and difficult)?
  • Do I have an activity that is creative, useful and life giving?
  • Are there opportunities to give and receive hospitality, in order to build community?
  • Am I committed to life-long learning, and sharing what I learn?

I commend the Seven Sacred Spaces to you, not as a way of becoming more holy, but of becoming more fully human.

Nick Bird

your Rector