BY DARREN HICKERSON
What is your third place? Are you sharing or experiencing God’s love in your third place?
And I’m not talking about winning a bronze medal, or how I placed in the Tuscaloosa, Alabama Cub Scout Pinewood Derby in 1978.
“Third place” comes from sociologist Ray Oldenburg, who described three places where most people carry out their lives: First: home; Second: work (or school); and that Third place: somewhere else. This “third place” is where you hang out—where you spend money or time, and where you live out your life in community and society. It can be Hanes Mall, a coffee shop, a restaurant, vineyard, bar, the Rotary Club, an art studio, church, a dog park, gym, or a Sheetz parking lot. Whatever your third place is, it provides an opportunity to share or experience God’s love “out there” in the world.
Jesus understood the importance of all of these “three places,” and went to all three. In the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark (vv. 14-45), it says about 9 times that Jesus “went” somewhere: to people’s homes, places of work, and, in general, just where people gathered—those “third” places. Sometimes he went to those third places to preach and heal; sometimes he went to rest and pray; and sometimes it appears he just went to hang out, letting people on the margins of society know that they were not on the margins of God’s love (Luke 7:31-35, Matthew 9:9-13).
At some times, the church has chosen to sit in judgment of those third places; at other times, the church has sought to be that third place. Theologian Reinhard Niebuhr described this tension in Christ and Culture, asking the question (essentially): is Jesus in, above, against, or transforming human culture? Niebuhr doesn’t offer a definitive conclusion. But merely asking the question and looking at what Jesus did should give us “church people” some direction: get out there and “get in the mix.”
COVID-19, of course, has thrown the “three places” idea (and where the church fits in) into chaos for many, as your first place (home) became your second place (school and office) and there often has been no third place for you. And I have spoken with way too many people who are feeling isolated and depressed as a result of that.
But there are safe third places out there in these times, and I encourage you to find them. As a church, we have been able to provide some third places, either in reality or virtually, to continue to bring people together (safely) during this time. Jayne Radionov’s Genesis Kardia Ministry at G3-Sunrise Church has given people with special needs (autism, Down syndrome, etc.) a place to gather and share faith and prayers on a weekly basis by Zoom meeting; they even hold a monthly online dance party. Another third place has been the Sunrise Disc Golf course; I cannot count the number of people who have shared that the course has given them a safe outlet and an escape during the pandemic—to experience the peace of the forest, and some socially distanced conversation and community while staying active. Others have sought out volunteer opportunities through the local homeless shelters and food pantries. Even people who lost jobs during the pandemic went on to volunteer at the very soup kitchens that fed them, as a way to give back in gratefulness, and to stay busy and avoid isolation.
I pray you will seek ways and places to create community in spite of the pandemic—ways and places to get “in the mix” and experience or share God’s love, wherever your third place is.