‘Building the Kingdom of God, I think you have to consciously and intentionally decide you are going to work with local materials, and find out where God is in the local community. You need to have a fairly well developed doctrine of Creation and of Incarnation, particularly if you are working in an area with high levels of poverty and disadvantage. You don’t want the church to be a closed-off community, separate from everything else.’Rev. Alan Everett, Vicar of St Clement Notting Dale and St James Norlands, reflecting on mission a year after the Grenfell Tower fire. Source: The Tablet, 9 June 2018.
Housing should be seen as good news. How do we move beyond personal and technocratic isolation, drawing on the narrative of a sacramental world and human ecology (note 1)? First, we consider below what features might be emphasised in a Catholic voice on ‘home’ in the public square(2), so that these are once again good news instead of a means of exclusion.
A recurring phrase in the writings of Pope Francis is, ‘Time is greater than space’. He is emphasising a process of building relationships with pastoral sensitivity as well as prophetic voice, in contrast with a focus on gaining power over others. To speak up about human ecology in an atomised society, there is room for all religious groups and associated charities to put more emphasis on home and public spaces as ‘time-rich’.
- First and foremost, homes and communities are spaces of human formation and forgiveness (vulnerability). These involve a shared, deliberate intention of working together through joys and sorrows, and are not exclusively about a start and end point of ‘how I feel’ or whether I feel in control or ‘devalued’.
- Places of birthing and re-birthing.
- Geared to extended family life from conception to grave – challenging assumptions about care in different life stages and conditions.
- Revealing Christ in the other – at the door, at table, in a party, in agony, asleep(3).
- Walkable (including for people who would find walking difficult).
- The shared, creative means of realising beauty in our built environment (e.g. appealing to all our senses and offering daily education), making welcome and blessing.
- Establishing and incorporating locally owned enterprise.
- Respecting the day’s and season’s natural rhythms – restoring night-time as a time of rest and quiet, not machines and noise.
- Designed to centre on communal, wholesome celebration of times of festival and fasting.
- Places of song. The English were historically known as late as the 17th Century for their good singing – as well as singing in churches and religious houses, there were songs for trades and communal singing at home.
- Where new or renewed, drawing on local materials and ‘open'(4) design processes.
Picture: Vicars Close, Wells
- cf. Octogesima adveniens, 11: There is an urgent need to remake at the level of the street, of the neighborhood or of the great agglomerative dwellings the social fabric whereby man may be able to develop the needs of his personality. Centres of special interest and of culture must be created or developed at the community and parish levels with different forms of associations, recreational centres, and spiritual and community gatherings where the individual can escape from isolation and form anew fraternal relationships.
- The principal space of assembly in a settlement – such as a village green, square, or hall.
- cf Joshua Jipp, Divine Visitations and Hospitality to Strangers in Luke-Acts: An interpretation of the Malta episode in Acts 28:1-10, Brill, 2010.
- cf WikiHouse – ‘Design for cheap, abundant, standardised, sustainable, and, ideally, circular materials.’