Continuing to think about Christian responsibility for the built environment of the city, and Belfast in particular.
(Even as I type that sentence I’m aware that for many who may read it there is none – Christian responsibility for the city extends only to ensuring that the heavenly city has citizens since God, presumably, looks after the architecture). In a very interesting piece of research called Public Space for a Shared Belfast, (download here) conducted by QUB academics on behalf of Belfast City Council, the authors write concerning the future of the city,
It was crucial to create contrasts, pre-figurative spaces, or what Lederach referred to as ‘permanent pilots’, places that illustrated the viability of alternatives to divisive segregations and created new norms about integrated city living. Otherwise Belfast was in danger of settling for a few major shared spaces as tokens of its declared ambition for a shared future. (p24)
Without such ‘pre-figurative spaces’ those in favour of creating a shared city were vulnerable to the forces lined in opposition, whose strongest persuaders were the ingrained suppositions and assumptions that change was impossible and the division caused by tribal allegiances was immutable.
It seems to me that this is a profoundly theological issue and one which we (Christians) are generally woefully equipped to tackle. Yet we are the very people who profess to know about transformation and change, but too often it is limited to personal ethical and moral behaviour and not extended to the communities in which we live.
But think about the change that is possible if we saw our faith communities and our places of worship as ‘pre-figurative spaces’ or ‘permanent pilots’ of what the Kingdom will be like when it comes, creating new norms on how to live in the city. If our spaces were to facilitate and enact reconciliation, not just between the individual and God but also between divided communities they would ‘pre-figure’ the Kingdom, or, if you prefer, be a foretaste of what is to come.