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4 Outside Spaces: Designed for Community

A look at outdoor gathering places featuring four innovative approaches to creating community in the great outdoors.

While most conversation in developing worship facilities focuses on the indoors, there are some churches who thinking outside the box, literally.  From an outdoor amphitheater in a city which bills itself as the "live music capital" to a labyrinth in the desert, sports fields that serve a community and an inspiring community to community garden, churches are creating innovations without enclosure

LifeAustin's Amphitheatre


Randy Phillips of Phillips, Craig and Dean understands the impact that music can have on people's spiritual lives. The church he serves as pastorLifeAustin in Austin, TXresides in a community for whom live music and outdoor activity are part of the culture.

"When we originally planned our 53 acres, we wanted to create spaces that would invite the community to come and use our campus. We have a dog park, disc golf course, sand volleyball course and a mile long walking/jogging trail," shares business pastor, John Capezzuti.  "Austin bills itself as the Live Music Capital of the World' so live music under the stars is very much aligned with our culture. The amphitheatre supports live worship, orchestral music and other community activities like graduations." The amphitheatre seats 1000 people under curvilinear vaults that flow up the hill and also provdes seating for another 1,000 on the lawn.

The goal of serving the community drove the environmental sensitivity of the project. "When we sited the amphitheatre initially, we paid attention to the existing topography," explains architect, Stephen Pickard of GFF in Dallas, Texas whose team designed the venue.  GFF provided a detailed tree survey with a goal to preserve as much of the existing landscape as possible. Rather than designing a kitchen, GFF recommended a plaza with berths for outdoor food truckswhich are iconic in Austin. "Not only was this a more affordable strategy, but it also creates opportunities for [interaction with] local businesses, " adds Pickard.

Despite the City of Austin having some of the most liberal noise ordinances for live music in the nation, once the church learned of neighbor's concerns surrounding the amphitheatre, they took a proactive strategy to safeguard the gathering spot as an asset to the neighborhood. 

The church invested heavily in implementing architectural noise mitigationdesigned by Idibriand also invested in portable solar powered noise level meters to be able to measure each performance to be sure that levels stay within an acceptable range so ensuring they are good neighbors. 

Since the main church building cannot be seen from the road, the visually appealing amphitheatre creates an inviting presence to people driving by encouraging them to come and enjoy the beauty of the space.

The Fields at Carrollton Parkway by the First Baptist Church of Carrollton


The First Baptist Church in Carrollton, Texas is a huge fan of youth sports.  From their earliest days, gyms were used for Kids Community Basketball. In addition the ministry was set right in the middle of a suburban community primarily made up of families with children. 

As the church grew, they made an intentional decision to use their land located off of a major highway about seven miles away from their main campus as a community space.  The Fields at Carrollton Parkway features two soccer fields, two baseball fields, two outdoor basketball courts, two sand volleyball courts, two shaded playgrounds and a splash area.

"About 500 1,000 people a day from the community come out to the fields during sports season," shares David Maki, associate pastor, sports & recreation at the First Baptist Church of Carrollton. "Initially, though The Fields were drawing people, our church body was not coming out and getting involved in personal relationships with the community, but once that shift happened, the relationships came. "

The First Baptist Church has taken a bigger step in bringing families who use their outdoor facilities into the life of the church. Not surprisingly, they are accomplishing this by breaking ground on an indoor worship/sports facility which is next to The Fields. 

Rather than trying to get people onto the main campus, they are planting a worship center there and will delegate 125 core attenders from the church to begin worshipping at this new north campus. "The invitation is to come on Saturday [for sports], then come back on Sunday.  The whole community is growing north and east which makes it a great place for a satellite campus. "

The Labyrinth at St. Philip's In The Hills Episcopal Church


The Labyrinth at St. Philip's In The Hills in Tucson, Arizona is a nine-circuit, octagonal labyrinth. Walking labyrinths has been a meditative and prayerful experience, predominantly Christian, since medieval times but are essentially non-denominational.

How to walk a Labyrinth

To walk a labyrinth, start at the outer pathway and wind your way into the center.  Labyrinths are not the same as mazes.  All circuits are continuous paths leading to the center. You leave the labyrinth by the same path, but in reverse.
 
Typically, there is a meditative focus for each portion of a labyrinth.  Entering a labyrinth is about letting go.  This might be the cares and concerns that keep us distracted and stressed or asking forgiveness for ourselves and forgiving others.  In the center of the labyrinth, the focus is on receiving through prayer, meditation and connection. The expectation is to pause and meet with God. The Labyrinth at St. Philip In The Hills has a fountain in the center which provides the opportunity to sit beside the fountain to listen to the water, meditate, face the mountains, or read something that we bring with us.  Leaving the labyrinth, the focus is on joining God, bringing back to the world a renewed vision and a refreshed spirit.  Thoughts walking away from the center often focus on gratitude or praise.

"The idea started as most ideas do.  One of our parishioners had experienced many labyrinths across Europe at 11th/12th century cathedrals and thought that one would be an appealing addition to our church.  We talked about it for years, but there were two stumbling blocks, namely funding and location. It wasn't until the celebrations began for our 75th anniversary, that the idea firmly took hold.  As part of a fund raiser people purchased 4"x8", or 8"x8", commemorative engraved bricks.  Within three months the basic cost of the labyrinth had been met," shares Tom Cross, Chairperson of the labyrinth committee.

Siting the labyrinth became a bit of serendipity. In initial conversations the labyrinth committee considered a circular labyrinth based on the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral in France, but there was an existing octagonal fountain surrounded by flagstone in front of the Church which created opportunity for a labyrinth based on by the labyrinth at Cathédrale Notre-Dame d'Amiens, France.

The church's original 50-year old fountain was fabricated from adobe and the entire structure melted during construction.  The new fountain is based on the original Architect's drawings, but substitutes concrete masonry units for the adobe, resulting in a fountain that looks like the original but is more permanent. "It takes about twenty minutes to walk meditatively to the center of the labyrinth and twenty minutes to walk out.  We schedule moonlight labyrinth walks and also have events where musicians play while people walk the labyrinth," adds Cross.  Cross also says that the labyrinth has added a much needed peaceful, beautiful experience in contrast to our pressure and often tragedy-filled modern world.

The Community Garden at First Evangelical Free Church of Maplewood


Jon Addington, the volunteer who coordinates the Harvest Gardens for the First Evangelical Free Church, Maplewood, Minnesota recalls, "We had a unique opportunity with a few acres of land which were purchased for future expansion; the land had previously been used for agriculture.  Since we wanted to be more intentional about community outreach, people picked up on a passing idea to create a community garden on that land.  So we plotted it out, put up a sign and now are on our sixth season."

What started out as an "idea with a sign," has now become a thriving ministry for the church.  The garden started with about 135 gardenersall drawn to the space even without publicity. Naturally, the area was expanded as popularity grew. 

The garden has a maximum capacity of 1162 plots available to anyone in the community on a first come first serve basis. This year the plots were all spoken for on the first day they could be reserved.  One of the opportunities that surfaced was with Arrive Ministries in Richfield, Minnesota. Arrive works with refugees to help them integrate into life in the US. "Many refugees come from agricultural backgrounds and most were living in camps where they couldn't grow food," reveals Addington. "Arrive Ministries is working with willing churches who can turn lawns into garden space. So now some of our plots are used by refugees so they can put food on their own tables."

 

 

 

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