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Is there a lesson for the church in the movement towards tiny houses and food trucks?

Is there a lesson for the church in the movement towards tiny houses and food trucks?

The tiny house movement has been a cultural “thing” for several years now and represents the leading edge of a desire to live more simply and to build lives in opposition to the prevalent consumerist culture of America.  Similarly, high end food trucks have been proliferating across the nations in cities large and small.  Each of these are adaptations to the emerging post-Great Recession economy which is likely to be much different from that which previously held sway from the end of the Second World War.  They are adaptable, mobile, minimal and community focused.  In other words, they represent the declining trust in institutions and notions of stability that under-girded the great mid-twentieth century American ideal.  Also growing has been an interest in craftsmanship and the individual craftsman as an entrepreneur and engine for community development.  And in New York, two local groups in cooperation with the Queens Museum, have created a tiny studio – a 150 square foot artists space that they hope will be the beginning of an artisanal renaissance, especially in cities where artists and musicians increasingly find it difficult to find affordable living and work space.

These new cultural adaptations are especially popular (it seems) to young people.  But are they truly the beginning of a significant cultural shift or just a short term phase on the way to whatever the next “normal” looks like?  At the recently finished General Convention, there was a definite sense that the church needs to take some risks and to try some different approaches to how it organizes itself and how it organizes and sustains communities of faith.  Is there something for us to learn in this movement towards the adaptable, mobile, minimal and community focused trends apparent in the various “tiny” movements?  What might tiny church look like?  How would it worship, engage in service and tell the story of the faith?  Do you know of any examples being tried right now? – please share if you do.  How far from the way we are church today can we go and still maintain what is essential to the core of our tradition?


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Bill Simpson

If you want to see the life-blighting effect of student loans, look no further than the tiny houses and food trucks. These are attempts by recent graduates to establish businesses and create homes in the shadow of 6.5% loans that will follow them even through personal bankruptcy. What we’re seeing is an attempt to be resilient in the wake of an economic tragedy, not young people embarking on some new golden age of voluntary simplicity. It’s all manure and no pony. Sorry. No deep lessons for the Church here–unless you want to think about economic fairness.

Ari Wolfe

Tiny Church! The idea IS thought-provoking. There are a couple of movements going on right now in Oakland (CA) that I’ve just started learning about & looking into, and I think this fits with them. First is the Tiny House project that involves making moveable homes-on-wheels for homeless folks… not as developed as the Tiny Homes with kitchens and bathrooms, but a safe, homey place where they can sleep behind a locked door, keep their things and emerge from each day having been kept out of the chill and the elements. I’ve seen this in Oakland and in Los Angeles, and it seems to be picking up steam as a movement across the country. The second is “Sacred Space”, an open-air church in the East Bay (I think Oakland & Hayward right now), again serving the needs of the homeless population and anyone else who can’t get to or doesn’t want to go to church. It’s definitely something that I think fits the “Small Church” idea – a Eucharist in the park for anyone to attend, with sandwiches for all who are hungry. I can also see creating a literal Tiny Church at some point to house it. Not big enough to hold services in, since the idea is the openness… but perhaps a place to keep supplies, food, Bibles & whatever else might be necessary or come in handy. At any rate, that’s what I thought of in reading this…

David O'Rourke

Ari, this sounds like the Common Cathedral movement that started in Boston years ago and that has spread to many cities.

Jay Croft

Occasionally I glance at one of those “small house” TV shows. These folks are very idealistic but they fail to take into account that their children will grow larger, will need their own space, and the family will need room to move around inside when the winter snows come.

One year ago my wife and I moved from a 2,600 square foot house to one of about 1,200 square feet. But that’s all right because our children are grown and live 45 minutes away, grocery stores are half a mile away, and we do have an attached garage which means we are able to go out in bad weather.

Paul Woodrum

Or maybe it’s just out of shrinkage that we’re trying to rationalize our fear with a “small-is-better-when-ever-two or three are gathered” attitude. Apply this argument to income rather than food trucks and see where it goes.

David O'Rourke

You have a great question Jon. What we need is to break out of our known definitions of what church is. If all we are trying to do is to perpetuate the same model of a parish then “tiny church” is simply a new route to an old model. I think there are great opportunities here to re-imagine what it means to be a Christian community in whatever settings we find ourselves in. Unfortunately many of our structures in TEC encourage the same model that we have always had and that is working less and less for us.

David O'Rourke

Jon. Agreed, if we use David Allen’s analogy and are using the food truck as a stepping stone to a brick and mortar restaurant, then we are perpetuating the same old model as you describe.

What I think is needed is space to be imaginative about what church is and how we can do it. Of course this will require, or perhaps inspire, changes in how we currently do church.

For example, if we want to keep the Eucharist at the center of our life as church, how do we need to change how we select, form, educate, and support priests? If attaining parish status, with representation in diocesan conventions and decision making, requires a fixed and permanent place of worship, how can we change this to allow new types of communities to develop and also be integrated into the life of the larger church?

My point here is that if we pull on some threads, who knows how things will unravel. But out of that unraveling, we might find new ways of living together in Christian community.

David Allen

Wannabe restauranteurs without the capital open food trucks because it’s more economically affordable. What would be the impetus for successful restauranteurs with actual restaurants to also open food trucks? I can quickly think of two possibilities. One, they believe that their food is so incredibly great that they seek as many avenues as possible to share it with folks. Two, they see something that has been so very economically successful that they want to cash in.

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