Strong Towns and Faith Communities || Office Hours Video || Norm Van Eeden Petersman and Guests

Norm Van Eeden Petersman
Norm Van Eeden Petersman
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06:30 Question 1 How do you see faith communities having a critical role in building strong towns?

13:57 Question 2 How do we persuade religious people to deeply invest themselves in the physical world where they live? 

20:36 Question 3: What would you say to a Strong Towns advocate who is looking for reasons to believe that religious partners are suitable partners for this work of building strong towns?

(note: at the 1:22:46 mark David Kresta, author of "Jesus on Main Street: Good News Through Community Economic Development" appears as an additional speaker)

30:10  Question 4 : What can be done with strip malls? 

32:31 Question 5: How do parking requirements impact faith communities?

36:41 Question 6: The 4-step approach to public investment 

38:31 Housing and Social Services (note: at the 1:45:18 mark, Dorothy Knudson from Walla Walla, Washington speaks)


Related Resources


More Resources & 

Christian Community Development Association

Comments from the Chat

  • A relatively small church here in my neighborhood in Phoenix is spearheading an ABCD (Asset-based Community Development) process.
  • A new group of downtown churches here are opening their kitchens as community kitchens for neighbours with limited coming space. like those living in rooming houses.
  • Suggestions: Work with racialized neighbours or those not represented at council, do a walking audit of the area and lift up those other voices.
  • Here in Austin we have -- a major faith-based effort to address housing challenges.
  • A thought on parking: In 1960, the City of Calgary turned down an application for a mosque "ostensibly because, unlike the case with a church which required seating, offstreet parking criteria could not be applied" (Max Foran, Expansive Discourses, page 78). If I'm reading that right, there might be an argument that removing parking minimums is good for religious freedom.Fortunately, Calgary has since removed parking minimums for non-residential uses so parking is no longer a hindrance to establishing places of worship.
  • This is a great example on church space for community economic development:


Personal Story: We missed a chance to support a neighouring church when they were before planning committee and council to get permission to build affordable housing. Since we gather from across the city, we could have reached out to more councillors. The deliberate Multi Faith Housing organization is a separate group that does pull us in when they need support with government.


Personal story: when I lived in San Francisco many of the Catholic Churches would leave their sanctuaries open and would allow homeless people to sit and rest or have a safe place to sleep. This required some real effort on their part bc there were safety issues that had to be dealt with. It was a much appreciated mercy for many of the homeless in the city.


Being a warming or cooling centre is another relatively easy way to be of service to neighbours as climate changes.


Good resource for historic churches in Partners for Sacred Spaces- Philly national offices


Controversial opinion: we have only 10% pastoral leadership. So it is the work of the people, or the work of no one.


Here is a great podcast (Eric Jacobsen & Sarah Joy Proppe) on helping churches to be “embedded” in neighborhoods


We see ourselves as the community building the city didn't build. There is no nearby community centre or small performance space. So we try to fill some of that need. 


Personal Story: Working in international ministry I found that our cities were not welcoming to those from other countries. They all felt trapped and isolated and couldn’t fulfill their daily needs without great effort. Just walking to store was very hard.


Personal Story: Locally, my challenge is the need to charge rent versus the groups would might use the building who have zero funds for space. We talk stewardship of the space. We to track worship usage and community usage so we can see that we are using the space wisely. This was part of the work of deciding we should remain open rather than merge with the downtown congregation.


Personal Reflection: I think also the sprawling man-made world disconnects us from both the beauty of civic architecture and the beauty of the God-made world, and it makes it easier for people to be numb to the idea of a universe that is bigger than themselves and full of wonder.


Scriptural Texts to ponder (shared by a participant): “You’re here to defend the defenseless, to make sure that underdogs get a fair break; Your job is to stand up for the powerless, and prosecute all those who exploit them.” (Psalm 82) and “Doom to you who legislate evil, who make laws that make victims— Laws that make misery for the poor, that rob my destitute people of dignity,” (Isaiah 10). These verses are among hundreds if not thousands in the Judeo/Christian scripture that show God cares about justice here on earth


Challenge: It’s become harder and harder for new churches to have a facility as well. Lots end up operating in strip malls or schools because it’s what they can get. Culturally people tend to think “everyone drives” so parking is a major worry, they think if it’s hard to park then people will just not bother attending, which is somewhat valid but exaggerated in the same way that a lot of business owners over estimate how much parking they need.

Challenge: It also matters if your space is built to hide the gathering from the community or has windows on to it. Of course many of the main doors are not longer even unlocked during services. This is harder in US where open carry is the law or communities may be at risk of attack.,

About Office Hours

Our door is wide open once a week for Strong Towns members to come and discuss how to build resilience and prosperity in their communities. Each week will focus on a different topic with a member of the Strong Towns team. The tone is casual and conversational. Drop in late if you need to; you’ll be just as welcome.

Wednesdays at 1 p.m. ET on Zoom

Submit your questions and ideas for topics in advance as you register, or ask them on the fly. Just so you know, pre-submitted questions and topics will be given priority during the conversation. 

Schedule & Registration Details Are Available Here

Can't attend? Catch the replay in Action Lab once it gets posted.


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