As I listen to the sound of hammers thudding and drills whirling beneath my office, I find myself thinking about what makes a space sacred. How do the rooms, walls, chairs, and windows that house our ministries impact what we do? What effect does space have on our faith communities?
We are under construction at “Cooper House,” the building that houses the Presbyterian Campus Ministry at Virginia Tech. We have begun the process of tearing down two walls in the student center in order to open up a tight space. The contractors figure we will gain about 110 square feet to our roughly 600 square feet space. It’s a small project, really, but one that I am hoping will have a significant impact on our ministry.
Space matters. When we gather on Tuesday nights for table fellowship, we hardly have enough room for tables. In the past, because it has been so challenging to set up tables in a comfortable way, the students ate dinner on the couches that line the perimeter of the room instead. Eating on couches is all well and good, but something is lost when folks can’t look one another in the eye or when a stranger can be easily missed and excluded. I’m not talking about just the act of eating together; I believe that there is more going on here. There is theological significance to this simple ritual of eating together.
Jesus sat at table with his disciples at Passover, as well as with sinners and outcasts throughout his ministry. He shared resurrection meals with followers in Emmaus and fed crowds with just a few fish and loaves of bread. Ministry happened when meals were shared. In the blessing, breaking, and giving of bread, Jesus embodied grace to those with whom he ate. He opened eyes, transformed hearts, and welcomed all. When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we remember these stories that connect us to Christ and sustain us in our journey to follow him.
Our spiritual practice of sharing meals together at Cooper House is an extension of the celebration that we share at the Lord’s Table. It is at the heart of what shapes our ministry. The community is nurtured here, at table. It’s what connects us to one another while also inviting us to reach out beyond our own tables. It’s hospitality. It’s inclusion. It’s grace.
Space matters, yes. The walls, and doors, and windows of our buildings may hinder or enable us. At Cooper House, the ability to gather around tables helps us to be who we want to be. Having enough room to extend hospitality allows us to live into our call. We do well to think about and examine what messages we communicate in the ways we use or don’t use our space. Why? Because ministry happens with the people who occupy these rooms. It is between these walls where we pray and sing and eat and cry and worship and laugh.
This building renovation doesn’t do anything to make our space more sacred; it’s up to our community to do that, by the leading of the Holy Spirit. We can have the perfect sized space with the most beautiful tables but if we don’t embody hospitality, inclusion, and grace within ourselves, we will fail to bear witness to the sacredness, to Christ, who is with us.
Ginny Taylor-Troutman is the Presbyterian Campus Minister at Virginia Tech where she finds great joy journeying with college students. She lives in the beautiful mountains of Southwest Virginia in a tiny town called Dublin with her husband, Andrew (who is also a Presbyterian pastor), infant son, Samuel, and dog, Nikki Giovanni Bob Dylan. Ginny loves hiking, music, a good cup of coffee, festivals, and just about anything she can do outside with her family and friends.