Thursday, April 07, 2011

Seven Sacred Spaces : Introduction

George Lings, of The Sheffield Centre, has written on the various sacred spaces of (Christian) monastic community.  Although these are expressed in different ways across various monastic traditions, Lings identifies seven recurring spaces:

the Cell, where we meet God on our own, and must also come face-to-face with ourselves;

the Chapel, where we gather for corporate worship;

the Chapter, where we discuss issues facing the community, and make decisions;

the Cloister, where we meet others – both those we like and those we dislike – in passing encounters;

the Garden, where we engage in productive work, complementing liturgical worship and study;

the Refectory, where we eat together;

and the Scriptorium, where we pass knowledge on, from one to another.

Lings suggests that most churches are overly-focused on the chapel experience, and to greater or lesser extent neglect the other spaces which monastic communities have discovered it to be essential to balance if Christian community is to be healthy.

It is interesting to apply Lings’ seven sacred spaces to missional communities, not least because the development of such communities in Sheffield was recognised by the Church of England to be ‘New Monastic’ in character, leading to the invitation to establish a formally recognised Order – The Order of Mission – which was inaugurated in 2003.

[To Lings’ list, we might want to add the infirmary, where the sick were cared for, and the almonry, from where aid was distributed to the poor.  While these are not commonly recurring spaces for contemporary monastic communities, they were traditional features of at least larger monasteries.  They became obsolete, as the state first dissolved the monasteries and later took on responsibility for health and social care – but as the state increasingly struggles to meet this burden, the time may be ripe to reinvent these roles.]

Missional communities certainly can attend to all seven spaces, and some do in practice.  Clearly one cannot attend to multiple spaces simultaneously: to encounter God and other in the chapel necessitates that we are not encountering God and other in the scriptorium at that moment in the day.  These spaces are distinct, but connected – in both time and space, as members of the community move through their day and night.  Certain times are set aside for certain activities.  Different spaces are passed-through on different cycles: for example, within a monastery the chapel is passed-through up to nine times throughout the course of the night and day, but never remained in – rather, it gathers us from one activity and sends us out into another – whereas the community gather in the refectory three times a day.  Blurring the distinct nature and purpose of each space is discordant; viewing each space as unconnected to the others is equally discordant.

But how might these spaces look – how might these principles be applied – in a community that does not live and work together in a monastery?


  1. Anonymous9:18 am

    This is fascinating, as our missional community has intentionally set out to model itself on the idea of being what we affectionately call a 'mini-minster'. We specifically aim to order our lives around the spaces you've described above, although we weren't aware of George Ling.

    Chapel: We meet once a month for an evening of soaking and prophetic prayer.

    Chapter: the core team meets every 2 weeks as a 'huddle' to invest in each other, plan, get outside input, etc

    Cloister: We encourage people connected with our community to find places where they can connect with each other, such as through Mother and toddler groups, craft groups, book clubs and other places. We don't expect everyone to be at all of these all of the time - they are just additional places where community can grow.

    Refectory: We meet once a month on a Sunday for a meal and social time together, and we plan 'feast days' around the Christian calendar, such as Easter, Christmas and Harvest.

    Scriptorium: We meet once a month for an evening of Bible study. We also have a group that meet in person and connect through a blog to mull over and discuss what we call 'God's Economy' - what a renewed and reformed society would / should be like (

    Infirmary: We welcome visitors to our community, whether they want to come just for an evening or stay for a while longer, who need to rebuild or get refreshed. We arrange specific times for people to come in and be prayed for, such as other community leaders, missionaries etc, and all our 'Scriptorium' and 'Chapel' evenings are open to visitors.

    We also have what we call 'industries', but which might fit into the 'Garden' space. We have areas where we apply ourselves to 'work' communally, ie not our individual workplaces but things that we come together to achieve. These include:

    Trying Times - a support group for people having difficulties conceiving (open to all, in church and out)

    Local mission activities

    I hope that is useful!

    Sarah Cooper

  2. Anonymous3:25 am

    This is very interesting I live at a place called Scargill House which is a christian retreat centre with a community of approx 35 (we change all the time here). I am part of the house and found this while we were discuss humility and it seemed to link in very well with what we were talking about.
    1 The cell- or our own rooms can be our place to get space and to reflect on what has happen and think also to God and the future
    2 Chapel- our chapel is where we practice our rhythm of prayer (for 15 mins at 8am 1.45pm and 6pm we meet to pray mon- sat on sunday we have a 10.30am communion service and thursday at 8pm) we gather both the community and the guests that are here and worship together
    3 Chapter- we have chapter meetings every now and then to make sure our community life is giving people exactly what they as individuals and a group of practising christians need to grow especially in our understanding of the life of Jesus
    4 Cloister- I suppose anywhere around our main house is a space where individuals can encounter each other and find out many things about the world and some of the people in it
    5 Garden- our space of work varies depending on what team we are part of so for example being on the House team I clean the bed rooms before the guests arrive, I clean the meeting rooms whenever thy are not in use and the bathrooms everyday whether there are guests here or not
    6 The Refectory- We eat together in our dining room at 8.15am, 1pm and 6.30pm and we also put out biscuits at 11am and cake at 4pm. This is very important for our shared time together and it is a big part of our hospitality
    7 The Scriptorium- We pass knowledge on to each other all the time, in community meetings (Tuesday afternoons) we discuss different topics and share knowledge on them as we work we teach each other different ways of completing the tasks we do, I could go on