DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Thirdspace

Written by: on May 14, 2015

In July 2014, I participated in the dedication of the first ever translation of New Testament into the Arsi Oromo dialect. My ministry, in partnership with the Ethiopian Bible Society, did the translation work. Since the Bible is for all people we invited leaders from all churches including the Orthodox and Catholic denominations. We initially rented a public hall but later on changed to a church because the hall could not accommodate all our guests. However, this made some of our non-evangelical guests unhappy, especially the Orthodox priests who see Protestants churches as their antagonists. For this reason, the Orthodox priests declined our invitation. Thus, in competing religious communities like mine, space is understood not as merely as the objective bodily surface where social relations and events take place, but in relation to the social identities of the people who belong to the space. So, what is the practical approach to bridge the social divide between these communities?

In his book Social Geographies: Space And Society, Gill Valentine discusses how geographers and social scientists have evolved in thinking about social relations. In the past, Gill states, space “was conceptualized as an objective physical surface with specific fixed characteristic upon which social categories were mapped out. Likewise, social identities were taken for granted as “fixed’ and mutually exclusive” (p.7). However, Gill tells us that geographers are shifting from dualistic way of thinking and increasingly ‘imagining a somewhere else’, a ‘paradoxical space’ or ‘Thirdspace’(p.6). These different conceptualizations of space, Gill contends, “represent ways of thinking about the world which focus on ‘the production of heterogeneous spaces of ’radical openness’” (p.7). It is obvious from my story above that people would feel much more comfortable in a thirdspace because it provides a social environment away from the usual meeting places, such as a church. The author references Susan Smith who argues the concept of Thirdspace:

Turns our attention away from the givens of social categories and toward the strategies process of identification. It forces us to accept the complexity, ambiguity and multidimensionality of identity and captures the way that class, gender, and ‘race’ cross-cut and intersect in different ways at different times and places (p.7).

Thus, if thirdspace is importance to community building as it is separate from usually social environments of places I wonder what it takes to convince churches leaders to seek out thirdspace as a current social need? In my experience, our church’s leaders often push back on the ideal facilitating ministry in the thirdspace. We would like others to come to where we are as opposed to meeting them where they are. About three years ago, I suggested to our church leaders to have an open-community meeting not in the church but at a public space so that our non-Christian community could come to the music concert I helped organize. I was told, “it is not right to close the house of the Lord on Sunday.” Well, a couple months later we had to move from the church building because it was on sale. I am not judging my leaders level of understanding but simply to show that it makes them uncomfortable to be in the thirdspace. Along with the idea of thirdspace, it is equally important that people are trained in how to engage with others in thirdspaces. When I think about how my community of believers in matters of faith engage with others in thirdspaces, such as facebook and other social medias, due to lack of relevant training, people are engaged in an unhealthy discourse. How does your church utilize a thirdspace? What are your challenges?

 

About the Author

Telile Fikru Badecha

6 responses to “Thirdspace”

  1. mm Deve Persad says:

    Telile, you speak of things so significant for all of us involved in churches. Thank you for doing so. The idea of thirdspace engagement is going to be a growing need that must be addressed by those in leadership. It is a sobering thought to recognize that most of those who are within the buildings are there because someone else engaged them personally in a thirdspace. You say: “In my experience, our church’s leaders often push back on the ideal facilitating ministry in the thirdspace. We would like others to come to where we are as opposed to meeting them where they are.” I wonder how it is we get there. What suggestion would you have for how to encourage/train people to engage the thirdspaces of our communities?

    • Telile Fikru Badecha says:

      Deve, Thank your comments and question. I think how we can encourage our faith community depends on our social and ministry context. But one important approach in our time is helping believers learn how to engage in dialogue with others about their faith. In addition, doing community project with churches down the road or with our Muslims neighbours with narrow the cultural divide and build relationship….

  2. Telile,
    Thank you so much for helping me to see anew. You wrote, “Thus, in competing religious communities like mine, space is understood not as merely as the objective bodily surface where social relations and events take place, but in relation to the social identities of the people who belong to the space. So, what is the practical approach to bridge the social divide between these communities?” I think you answered it in your recognition and support of a thirdspace environment. Perhaps to affirm that space we have to have an understanding of purpose. We carry our identities within us rather than bring ourselves to a space to receive our identity. Your question is so insightful and challenging …. I have no answers but you have made me see what I did not before.

    • Telile Fikru Badecha says:

      Carol, great insight! It is interesting to me that as humans we can carry our identity to new a place but don’t often let the new place shape our identity.

  3. mm rhbaker275 says:

    Telile,
    I love your post … insightful and a great application.

    It reminded me of a book by Dan Kimball I read several years ago, “They Like Jesus but not the Church.” He talks about the church’s space – he calls it a bubble. We gather there because we feel safe; its a place where people think and act like we do. The bubble is a haven; our wounds are healed. We invite people into our space; our bubble. The problem is they don’t come because they don’t feel safe; in the bubble they get wounded. Kimball does not suggest that we burst the bubble because, in fact, it is a good place. He does suggest that the church needs to leave the bubble and enter the space where people live.

    Your post also characterizes the “thirdspace” in sports, also known as the “neutral” place. Our “space” gives us “home-court advantage.” In sports, to be fair, teams must share home-court. Valentine’s “Social Geographies” exposes the injustice that space/place impose on some while giving the advantage to others.

    • Telile Fikru Badecha says:

      Ron, Thank you for your thoughtful comments as always. I love you say, “Valentine’s “Social Geographies” exposes the injustice that space/place impose on some while giving the advantage to others” so true. Dan Kimball’s book sounds interesting to me. I will check it out. You provide a great example of ways to engage in thirdplace.

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