Rest and Life in Third Spaces

By: Kari Bergrud

The concept of a ‘third space’ was new to me, or so I thought, but when it was explained I could instantly picture many of the third spaces that I have had over the course of my life. The vintage and second hand shops that I would go to just to visit the owners and meet the interesting wave of characters that happened to pop in that day. The coffee shop that I spent hours and hours doing school work in, only to befriend the baristas and other neighbourhood folks. The front yard of my friends that live right beside my church, where we can play socially distanced games and catch up with friends that also live in the neighbourhood that are walking by.

A third space is a place that is not your home (first place) or your work/ other main place that you might spend your days (second place), rather it is a third place that you feel like you belong, are known, and gather for some kind of shared hobby, interest, or geographic location.

This season that we are living in right now has required us to be stretched and maybe get creative about different ways to connect and engage with each other. The concept of a third space can give us an interesting framework for how we can make those connections in a time that feels so disjointed.

If you’ve ever spent time in the Downtown Eastside, especially on East Hastings Street, you have probably noticed the side walk sales. For about three to four blocks every day, people lay out blankets, set up lawn chairs, and sell, trade, or gift their finds. Music is often playing, people talking loudly, and things that you have not seen IRL since 1995. Like any neighbourhood, there are still disagreements, misunderstandings and conflicts, but more often than not, people are being greeted, stories are being shared and jokes told.

This community has refined and created a culture of third space that is celebrated, to be taken notice of, and to learn to incorporate into our own lives. Often, they show up to the same place to see the same people and are simply present with one another, and that is rest, and that is life.

I don’t know about you, but I struggle to sit still and not be productive. This season has taught me many things, and one of them is that my body was not meant to be working and doing all the livelong day. It seems to me that when God highlights rest both in the Creation story and in the Jesus story, it is not just a footnote that we can shove to the side. Rather, they are focal points that can teach us to be present with ourselves, with each other, and with the Creator.

In an article posted by TED earlier this year “The 7 types of rest that every person needs”, the author Saundra Dalton- Smith, outlines many of the things that we would normally think of when it comes to rest- physical, mental, sensory, creative, emotional, and social. But in an interesting twist, the seventh type of rest is spiritual, and while this can be done in solitary through prayer or meditation, it can also be done in shared spaces through belonging and community involvement. Does that sound familiar? Kind of like the message behind the Creation and Jesus stories?

So how do we create these spaces? Well, sometimes it is as simple as showing up, and then showing up again, and then again. Cafes. Parks. Church basements. Condo roof tops. Or maybe we can create them. Does your front lawn have space for a picnic table with a welcome sign for neighbours to sit down?  Does your church have a place for some benches or a life size chess board? It can be hard to slow down and just be present in a space where the only requirement is that you show up, and yet, it is the very thing that will give us life and rest. So be like our DTES neighbours, show up for each other, be present with one another, and create spaces where rest and life are lived out and celebrated.

If you have more stories around community building or third spaces, please don’t hesitate to reach out to [email protected]. We really enjoy hearing and sharing the intentional ways churches are showing up in their neighborhoods!

Community Features: Third Spaces 

Wilder Snail Neighborhood Grocery & Coffee (Strathcona, Vancouver)

By: Winston Green

Someone once said, that coffee shops are now the new living rooms in cities. In Vancouver, I think this is especially true due to renters living in smaller living quarters and people sharing houses. Coffee shops can act as those in-between places of community connection, often called third spaces.

Recently, I have had the pleasure of lounging at Wilder Snail Neighborhood Coffee & Grocery , which has acted as a sort of second work space for me during this season of working from home – bound by Covid restrictions. Wilder sits on Hawks and Keefer Street in the Vancouver’s Strathcona neighborhood. Its location is unique in that it is kitty-corner from a shared artist space/gallery, and across from a large, spacious park – this attracts a significant amount of foot traffic.

Within a couple weeks’ time of sitting outside, I realized that there is a vibrant community of social connection which I would not have seen had I not increased my visits. What I noticed was:

  • On the regular, the same two older men often have a hot cup of coffee and spicy conversations about the neighborhood and world politics.
  • The same dog walkers stroll by, let their dogs have some water, and maybe stop in for a coffee to-go, occasionally introducing their dogs to others for a sniff and a pet.
  • The artists across the way sit outside on nice days to chat.
  • In the last couple weeks a beautifully crafted library exchange box was set up by one of the artists, which didn’t take long to attract passerby’s in to finger through the book collection.
  • The neighborhood barber (who works out of the same building as the coffee shop) seems to know every person and their dog, and makes a point of saying hi to everyone he doesn’t, jumping right away into the daily happenings as though their long lost friends.
  • Families will chat with each other and talk about neighborhood-watch related things- which cars are driving too fast and what happened last week on this or that street.
  • People like me sit to write and read, taking advantage of the good weather in a pandemic-restricted world.

I’m still new to getting to know the area and the people, but I’m starting to feel like it is a place that I belong, not just a place to get a good coffee and do my work. Almost daily, a neighborhood senior stops by at the same time to make random chat with strangers and friends. It didn’t take long before we began chit-chat, which turned into a little neighborhood history, a little about our families past, and surprisingly, right into the culturally taboo topic of Religion. I was shocked! All we did was sit there and show up…and let me tell you, we couldn’t be more different people: I’m black, she’s Jewish; she’s pushing eighty years old, I’m in my thirties; I believe in The Creator God, she grew up in a “anti-Christian” home. But we had a lovely conversation which went on close to an hour, and both of us acknowledged that we enjoyed talking with one another, and I’m sure it won’t be the last conversation.

This season of lingering in a third space made me realize that the more familiar we are with each other in a space, we tend to intuitively feel like we have more in common. Over time (in reality it probably takes a while), I imagine that social connections strengthen, and those connections turn into ways we can contribute to each other’s well-being, and ultimately the common good.  And all from simply being and seeing in a place, but not just any place, a third space.

Fun Fact: Wilder Snail was opened for the purpose of finding more community! (Click Here to Read More on Wilder)

‘Garden of Eatin’ Neighborhood Garden Plots – First Christian Reformed Church of Vancouver (Grandview-Woodland, Vancouver)

By: Jonathan Bird

I can’t help but smile every time I walk past the ‘Garden of Eatin’ planted along the edge of the parking lot of First Christian Reformed Church of Vancouver at 11th Ave and Victoria Drive. More than a decade ago, long before the City had set about fostering 2010 community gardening plots as an Olympic Sustainability Goal, the congregation converted a strip of sod beside the road into fourteen raised beds for vegetables. They installed a bench and other seating surrounded with perennial flowers, and set up a state-of-the-art three-bin composting system as a demonstration feature. What had been a drab, urban commonplace was transformed into an ever-changing scene of Creation’s providence and beauty – a clear, friendly signal not only to the residents of the block, but also to the many pedestrians walking to and from Trout Lake Park that this church takes joy in what they themselves do and the community in which they reside. Area households now pay a nominal, annual fee to rent a 4×6 foot section of the raised beds, and they’re encouraged to donate a portion of their produce to charitable food programs in the neighbourhood. I think transforming their third space into a vivacious garden was a well worth the effort because it not only brings a smile to my face but contributes to the common good of the community.

Enjoy These Resources on Third Spaces and Community

Book: Happy City – by Charles Montgomery

“After decades of unchecked sprawl, more people than ever are moving back to the city. Dense urban living has been prescribed as a panacea for the environmental and resource crisis of our time. But is it better or worse for our happiness? Are subways, sidewalks and tower dwelling an improvement on the car-dependence of sprawl? Rich with history and new insights from psychology, neuroscience, and Montgomery’s own urban experiments, Happy City is an essential tool for understanding and improving our own communities. The message is as surprising as it is hopeful: by retrofitting our cities for happiness, we can tackle the urgent challenges of our age. The happy city, the green city and the low-carbon city are the same place, and we can all help build it.”

Video: TedxPerth presents: Take a Street and Build a Community – by Shani Graham

“How well do you know your neighbours? Suburban life is often isolating and rarely a true community experience. This is not the case in Hulbert Street. Shani Graham helped lead a sustainable-living revolution that ultimately resulted in strong neighbourly relationships, the fences pulled down and the establishment of a street festival. In this talk, she explains how it happened.”