Power in Numbers
For years I’ve watched two house museums in the ‘burbs struggle for attention and identity. They are a couple of miles apart, a mere bicycle jaunt along a busy road. Both tell a colonial to colonial revival story. One does a car show, the other a craft fair. Both are set amid a remnant pastoral landscape in what is a rapidly developing, formerly agricultural area losing more context each day with a road widening here or a high-end manor house development there.
I’d drive by and look at the empty parking lots and think — Wouldn’t it make sense to join forces, share resources, and market themselves in tandem? Turn the remaining land to work for a Community Sponsored Agricultural Coop and take turns hosting a “Farm to Table” market on alternating weekends, maybe with local chefs teaching classes on what you actually do with a rutabaga. Hold a fireside camp out (Revolutionary reenactors optional) at one site with a child-friendly “Hunt Breakfast” at the other the next morning.
Surely promoting a locale with two places to visit would be easier than motivating a family to drive out to a single one that lacks any obvious nearby attractions to fill the rest of the day? [Bicyclists roam the scenic roadways in packs; why not tap that special interest group with cyclist-friendly resources and events?]
Indulge my flight of fancy
The power in numbers idea makes me think of silvery clusters of schooling fish. They are swift, collectively look bigger than they really are and thus scare off potential predators, and are a wonder to behold. Theirs is a successful survival strategy and one that translates well to the real world.
Power in Numbers at Work: Ordering off the Venue Menu
In Philadelphia, the fledgling Baltimore Avenue Coalition is “a collaborative group of congregations and organizations, which was convened by Partners for Sacred Places, [that] seeks to spark a conversation about joint efforts, initiatives and projects that congregations and organizations can enact along Baltimore Avenue.” Power in numbers, in action!
The group recently produced a “Venue Menu” (click for pdf) — a brochure promoting “sacred spaces for community use” that includes five area churches built between 1870 and 1906: Spruce Hill Christian School (c. 1879), Woodland Presbyterian Church (c. 1870), Calvary Center for Culture and Community at Calvary United Methodist Church (c. 1906), St. Francis De Sales Parish (church c. 1890/school c. 1904) and Hickman Temple (c. 1904).
The brochure includes a rave review from a local theatre company, offers pictures of the building exteriors, contact information and icons signifying room capacity and special features.
Explaining its purpose, the brochure notes:
The historic houses of worship along Baltimore Avenue are anchors of their broader community, reflecting the diversity of the neighborhood’s people, histories, and architecture. Our congregations have strong legacies of positive involvement in every aspect of West Philadelphia’s life. These neighborhood landmarks — sacred to people of many faiths — are vital participants in the worship, culture and daily life of Baltimore Avenue.
The goal of the Baltimore Avenue Coalition’s Venue Menu is to preserve the character of our neighborhood, to maintain the architecture that is foundational in its identity, and to encourage the growth and true prosperity of the community. By opening our sacred spaces for community use, we seek to build an appreciation for the places where we live, work, and worship. In preserving the historical, cultural, and architectural diversity of Baltimore Avenue, we will preseve our Avenue’s sense of self.
Churches have always had connection to the community as a primary goal, but as churches across the country see their congregations shrink, this Venue Menu formalizes that offering and makes the partnership a kind of a contract with the neighborhood, a partnership and service to people looking to meet for a purpose that might not be spiritual, but serves the community in another sense (like sew a pillowcase for a cause).
(If you want more info on the Philadelphia pillowcase challenge, click here.)