An Argument For Specific and Strange Space

Macedonian Ministry welcomes pastors from throughout our program to contribute to our weekly articles. This week, our thanks to Rev. Dr. Katie Hays from Galileo Church and our Ft. Worth, TX Cohort, for her reflection.

I spent my childhood in two bedrooms that I remember. The first was pale yellow, with precious Holly Hobbie bedspreads and curtains that my mom made herself. We moved when I was a preteen trying to break away from childhood, and I insisted on bold navy stripes on bright white walls for my new room, a color arrangement that bespoke strength and seriousness to me. Bless my parents for indulging me, so that my space felt like mine, an externalization of my priorities and aspirations.

Galileo Church rents a Texas-style barn – corrugated sheet metal walls, stained concrete floor, huge garage doors for tractors to drive through in years past – for its worship home. Though it is not ours, we’ve personalized the heck out of it, hoping to project our identity into the space the same way preteen Katie tried to do. It’s important that the space itself communicate to newcomers and regulars alike that “This is who we are; this is what’s important to us.”

Notably, the inside walls of the barn are festooned with flags – a Pride rainbow for the whole LGBTQ+ spectrum, and variants in pink and purple and blue and every other color for specific gender identities and sexual orientations. Galileo’s first missional priority is “We do justice for LGBTQ+ people, and support the people who love them.” You don’t have to memorize our mission statement to know that, though – you’ll figure it out when you come in the door. The space itself will tell you who we are, or aspire to be.

In the back of the worship space there’s a dimly lit, small room with a sign on the door: “Quiet Room.” At the beginning of every worship service we remind people that if what we’ve planned, liturgy-wise, is not helping draw your heart near to God’s heart, then for God’s sake, do something else. The Quiet Room is frequently used by anxious people, autistic people, exhausted people, anyone whose mind and spirit and body need a break from everything else. Our second missional priority is, “We do kindness for people with mental illness…and celebrate neurodiversity.” Again, our space communicates our intention.
We’ve left one whole corner of the room mostly empty except for six reclaimed grocery pallets mounted on the walls. Altogether, they’re the “prayer wall,” where people can write prayers on cards with Sharpies and tuck them into the slats of the pallets. Pillows from a thrift store invite pray-ers to kneel if they like. We’ve never thrown away a prayer from that wall, and our archives hold thousands of those little cards, prayed over by the church and our Spiritual Care Team. The vulnerability that pours out of those cards is shocking, and beautiful. It’s another missional priority of our church: “We do real relationship, no b.s., ever.” The prayer wall is a promise, materialized in our space, that we can handle each other’s truth.
Generic worship spaces frustrate me these days. Stained glass and crosses, fonts and tables, pews and hymnals – what does it all telegraph about the unique and weighty vocation to which this church, this tiny twig on the Christian family tree, is called? Sometimes I fear it means this church has no idea what it’s doing here, other than surviving the cultural apocalypse of post-modernity with all our accouterments intact. Or is it a promise not to be too specific, too demanding, too strange, too much? Galileo Church has been accused of all that, to be sure.
But the gospel becomes more specific and more strange the longer we spend trying to live it. And Galileo’s barn looks more like us – exactly like us! – the longer we stay in it. Thanks be to God.

Rev. Dr. Katie Hays is the Lead Evangelist for Galileo Church in (outer) Fort Worth, Texas. She is the author of the forthcoming We Were Spiritual Refugees: A Story to Help You Believe in Church (Eerdmans, 2020).






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