The concept of space is intriguing and anything but obvious. Space helps to define who we are, how we think, how we live, how we perceive, how we set priorities, etc. There are so many aspects from Valentine’s book Social Geographies: Space and Society that piquet my interest, but one in particular hits close home. The concept of space as understood from a rural or urban perspective continue to amaze me.
Growing up, I never wanted to live in town; not enough space. For me, wide-open space equaled freedom, independence, and anonymity. What a shock it was to find out than in a rural area, neighbors (even if they are miles away) know your business while people living in cities of millions often feel lonely and unknown.
I have had the opportunity to work with people who are first generation in the city. In one generation, the children begin to be shaped by the city in ways that their parents don’t understand. At the opposite extreme, I have watched people move to “the country” with romantic ideas of what it will be like, only to find themselves disillusioned. Space is an imagined concept. We sometimes forget that when we enter a space, our perception of the space is shaped by factors other than just the space itself. We can also neglect to realize that just as space shapes us, we shape the space around us.
Michigan’s thumb is a rural hidden treasure. It is hidden because you have look for it. Due to its location, you don’t ever pass through the thumb on your way someplace else. I have known several people who visited and fell in love, either with the landscape, the laid-back life, or with a local farmer. There is a concept of country living that captures their heart. Unfortunately, these concepts are more-often-than-not a perception created by those who wish to “sell” the country. “Cultural meanings of rurality are employed by the media, advertising and other forms of popular culture to sell products and places.” They arrive with romantic notions of a home where the buffalo roam (yes, we have buffalo farms) and the deer and the wild turkey play (sorry, no antelope). “City folk” arrive with a concept of rural space portrayed in the media, but are soon confronted with the smell of manure. When the deer “play” on the road and wreck their car, it is no longer cute. Soon, the local farmers receive complaints from their new neighbors about dust, noise and smell. The farmer’s wife wakes up to find that she married not only a farmer, but a farm that demands constant attention and that a family vacation is out of the question when running a dairy operation. As more people move to the country, they bring their “space” with them, and thus the “country” begins to change. People would rather adapt their new space to themselves rather than be shaped by new paradigms of living. “Rather than rurality being defined in terms of function or particular society it is now understood as a social construct.”
Spatial concepts not only affect issues like rural/urban existence, they challenge the Christian church. As we consider ministry, it is important to remember that each person brings his/her own concept of space. This will affect what our services should look like, how we engage in fellowship, styles of worship, etc. I wonder how many times we see people go through the revolving doors of the church without engaging and becoming part of the community simply because the spatial dynamics are foreign to them. Understanding those whom we are trying to reach should cause us to create space that is welcoming and allows others to understand who they are in this space we call “church”.
 Gill Valentine, Social Geographies: Space and Society (New York, N.Y.: Prentice Hall, 2001), 260.
 Ibid., 255