The more I connect with Fresh Expressions the more I realize this is a familiar place of mission and ministry. In Vision Days, Pioneer Learning Communities, Blogs you will hear conversations and descriptions of Third Places – where people gather for various affinities (coffee shops, fitness centers, walking and bike trails, tex-mex restaurants and even tattoo parlors). Fresh Expressions of church regularly occur in third places. I am convinced those third places become Thin Places.
Celtic Christian Spirituality has become a hot topic in the last couple of decades. One popular feature is to speak of thin places. A thin place is a place where the separation between heaven and earth is uniquely thin, a place of deeper awareness of the God’s presence, a sense of the holy invading space and time.
There are biblical images of thin places. In Genesis 28, the patriarch Jacob had a dream and when he awoke he proclaimed…
Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it. He was afraid and said, How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.
He then built an altar there and to this day it remains a holy place of pilgrimage for the Jews and Christians alike.
We could name other biblical landscapes recognized as thin places; Mount Sinai where Moses encounters Yahweh and received the Law of God, Jerusalem and the temple mount, Bethlehem at the birth of Christ, the Mount of Transfiguration, Golgotha where Jesus was crucified just to name a few.
These were places of great encounter, revelation, transformation and more. Thin places are not just biblical, geographical places. Because God so loved the world He sent His Son Jesus to redeem and reconcile us to Himself and to give us the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Because of Jesus, thin places abound!
I was the Executive Director of a retreat center for eight-plus years. I saw our campus as a sacred space where people came to pray, encounter God and brush up against the holy. I have sensed the holy in many places I have traveled; at various cathedrals in England, the mountains of western North Carolina, under the canopy of the Northern Lights in the Canadian Arctic.
A few years ago my wife, Beth and I visited the 9/11 memorial as it was being finished, the sight where the former Twin Towers stood. The footprints of the Twin Towers of the former World Trade Center have become square wells of water flowing on all four sides, with the names of those who perished that day chiseled in stone around the perimeter. We were there in hustle and bustle of lower Manhattan, but as we went through the turnstile and stepped into this space there was a solemn tone, a deep silence as folks wandered about. I looked at Beth and said, This place has been baptized in the grief of a nation and this flowing water represents the tears shed. It was a profound and surprising thin place! I could tell you story after story of places where I have encountered the felt presence of Almighty God.
Thin places I know can be extended to more than geography. In a truly sacramental sense thin places are outward and visible signs of inward spiritual grace. Certain music and melodies transport me into a place of spiritual awareness; conversations with fellow pilgrims in this life; liturgies and prayers bid me deeper. God shows up; or in the words of Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten-Thousand Places. Jesus is present where two or three are gathered. (Matthew 18:20)
Ultimately Fresh Expressions is about cultivating thin places of encounter with God in the third places of our culture. An attribute we learn from scripture about the Almighty Triune God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is omnipresence; that is, He is everywhere at all times. I like this definition from the Oxford dictionary, the state of being widespread and/or constantly encountered.Ultimately Fresh Expressions is about cultivating thin places of encounter with God in the third places of our culture. Click To Tweet
Habakkuk 2:14 proclaims, For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. The earth is filled with God’s Glory we just don’t often recognize it. We are unaware. The earth does not possess this knowledge as of yet. There is coming a day when it will and for now God chooses to show up in His people.
Until then we have microcosms of this awareness. The goal of a Fresh Expression is to create thin places of encounter in the culture through: presence and prayer; relational, incarnational ministry; being with people where they are; loving them like Jesus loves them and telling them, maybe more so displaying to them the Gospel, the Good News that is found in Christ Jesus.The goal of a Fresh Expression is to create thin places of encounter in the culture through presence and prayer; relational, incarnational ministry; being with people where they are; loving them like Jesus loves them. Click To Tweet
If we enter third places with intentional acts of kindness they are transformed into thin places. Being kind, generous, compassionate, caring, ushers in the very presence of God. We can engage, connect, interact under the canopy of His manifest presence in us and through us to others.
Over the last year or so I have rediscovered the power of a prayer walk. I ramble around the mall, a park or bike through a trail- praying with eyes and ears open, listening to hear and see where God is showing up. He does! Upon occasion I am prompted to engage a stranger, to have a conversation and maybe to offer prayer. In those moments I sense the breadth and width between heaven and earth thinning and it makes me smile.
The Rev. Jon Davis PhD is an Episcopal Priest, church planter, teacher, worship leader. He is on staff with Fresh Expressions as a mission strategist and is launching some Fresh Expression gatherings through the Abbey Mission in a NE suburb of Orlando. firstname.lastname@example.org