Bricks and Mortals co-founder Donna Schaper’s new book, Remove the Pews, has recently been published by Pilgrim Press! The book highlights the important relationships between our sacred spaces and the communities that surround them.
The book draws on Schaper’s time at Judson Memorial Church to ask questions about how houses of faith use their properties, and how this is connected to their past identities and future hopes.
Many faith-based organizations that Bricks and Mortals works with see declining membership at the same time that their historic buildings are desperately in need of renovations and maintenance – these two problems can often be mutually reinforcing. In Remove the Pews, Schaper proposes dramatically re-orienting faith communities’ relationships with both their physical spaces and their surrounding community.
In the case of Judson Memorial Church, the congregation’s reorientation came in the late 1960s, when postmodern dance artists like Yvonne Rainer, Steve Paxton, and Deborah Hay, were choreographing and performing dances in one of Judson’s multi-purpose rooms. The congregation, seeing the creative energy that the dance community was bringing to the space, decided to remove the pews in the sanctuary and see what the dancers might get up to in there. Over the proceeding decades, Judson opened its doors to many non-worship activities, both for rental fees and for free. To this day, Judson remains a major site for art and performance in its neighborhood – hosting organizations like Daybreaker and Movement Research – as well as a hub for social justice activism and organizing work.
As some faith-based organizations face declining membership, rethinking the relationship between sacred space and the wider community can breathe new life into the building. By opening up its doors to rentals and outside groups, faith-based organizations may find a sustaining new community within its walls. Bricks and Mortals helps congregations find solutions for their real estate, including providing resources to create space-sharing and rental arrangements in their buildings.
You can order Remove the Pews from Pilgrim Press.