An Idea to Incarnate
I have a hunch we share the opinion that “Ideas are often poor ghosts.” That's a line by Mary Ann Evans, the 19th century novelist who published under the pen name George Eliot. By "poor" I think she meant meager. Poor as insufficient. “But sometimes,” she wrote, ideas are "made flesh … Then their presence is a power, then they shake us like a passion, and we are drawn after them with gentle compulsion, as flame is drawn to flame.”
Incarnation is our human aspiration. People of all faiths and no faith want to taste and see goodness. Such desire compelled me in 2003 to start Sympara with friends as a community of practice. Eleven years later we named our yearning to create alternatives to the isolation and fragmentation of society. Days after Maya Angelou's death we read her words and could almost touch her vision: “The horizon leans forward, / Offering you space to place new steps of change.”
Today Sympara is stepping into this space. We have an idea to solve the crisis of loneliness, division and despair. At least 6,000 congregations close each year in the U.S., and thousands more struggle to survive, often with little connection to their wider communities. Can we repurpose religious properties for the common good? Can we create sacred/civic spaces where neighbors make meaning, find purpose and build more just and inclusive communities? Our hunch is Yes, and we're moving on it.
In North Carolina we're helping a church activate more than 3,000 square feet of underutilized space by identifying partners who need these rooms to work on the very things the congregation cares about.
In California we're helping a nonprofit organization whose employees cannot afford to live where they work by building relationships with religious communities that have property suitable for the development of workforce housing.
In the new year we'll experiment with multifaith pop-ups, coworking for social impact, and brewing some IPAs – intergenerational people adventures – all in religious properties with "space to place new steps of change.”
If you want to participate, please let me know. And if you want to see Sympara in more places, support our work with a tax-deductible contribution today.
Sacred/civic space for the common good? That's an idea you and I can incarnate – in space we already have. As the urbanist Jane Jacobs said, “Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old buildings.”
So let us begin, my friend.
P.P.S. As Sympara pursues 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, your gift will be managed by our fiscal sponsor, the American Baptist Seminary of the West, which is a member of the multifaith Graduate Theological Union.