The Community Design Collaborative and Partners for Sacred Places have wrapped up Sacred Places/Civic Spaces, a partnership to re-envision underutilized, religious properties as community hubs. The initiative was funded through a grant from the William Penn Foundation, with additional support from the National Endowment for the Arts.
We challenged congregations, community organizations, and interdisciplinary teams of designers to develop innovative concepts for programming and designs that will re-position historic sacred places as community hubs. Their collaborations focused on three Philadelphia sacred places: The Philadelphia Masjid, Wharton-Wesley United Methodist Church, and Zion Baptist Church.
Sacred Places/Civic Spaces launched in June 2018, when we announced the participating congregations, community organizations, and designers. The initiative wrapped up in March 2019 with a capstone exhibition and the release of a special report by Grid magazine. Now, we’re sharing the resources and results online, where you can:
- Learn about the issues confronting sacred places and the unique history, culture, and architecture of each site,
- See our process for engaging the community and experts from diverse disciplines,
- Get an in-depth look at the resulting programming and design concepts, and
- Download a copy of our special report.
At the reception for the capstone exhibition, Beth Miller, executive director of the Community Design Collaborative, reflected on the Sacred Places/Civic Spaces experience, “So many people—from the congregations to the community to the experts who served as advisors and jurors—have enriched this initiative. As a result, each strategy speaks to unique assets and goals.”
“So many people—from the congregations to the community to the experts who served as advisors and jurors—have enriched this initiative. As a result, each strategy speaks to unique assets and goals.”
Judilee Reed, project director for civic spaces for the William Penn Foundation, said, “The time and energy you put into this is immense. These designers are wonderful illustrations for what is possible and how to foster community connects.”
Bob Jaeger, president of Partners for Sacred Places, added, “This is the first project of its kind in America. We want to encourage and provide a model for congregations in Philadelphia and across the nation.”
Leaders from each congregation also shared their thoughts. Michael Major, associate minister for Zion Baptist Church, said, “The Zion Baptist Church Annex and the people who served in the building are why I’m here. What I’ve achieved is due to them. Tioga families are looking for someone to do for their children what Zion did for me… I learned that there are experts out there who really care and have the technical expertise and passion to help. We got real information. Looking at the Annex, I thought it was beyond hope. The architects assured me that the building was sound.”
"We got real information. Looking at the Annex, I thought it was beyond hope. The architects assured me that the building was sound.”
Michael Major, Associate Minister,
Zion Baptist Church
David W. Brown, community pastor for Wharton-Wesley United Methodist Church, said, “it’s been quite a journey. We’re a 175-year-old startup! Sacred Places/Civic Spaces enabled us to initiate a very deliberate community engagement process. We met many people who lived four or five blocks away who had never been in our church. I want to see how we can be relevant seven days a week. I don’t count Sunday attendance to gauge our success.”
"I want to see how we can be relevant seven days a week."
David W. Brown, Community Pastor,
Wharton-Wesley United Methodist Church
Aazim Muhammed, director of community development for The Philadelphia Masjid, said, “This has been a wonderful process. Without HOK [the leader of the design team], we wouldn’t have been able to re-envision our historic building. The Philadelphia Masjid has been my home for forty years. It’s important to me because it’s about legacy… what can we do for future generations?”
"It’s important to me because it’s about legacy… what can we do for future generations?”
Aazim Muhammed, Director of Community Development, The Philadelphia Masjid
Bob Jaeger concluded, “We’ve just heard from three amazing speakers, representing three amazing faith communities. I’ve been in this city for thirty hears and when something like this happens, I feel so proud of our civic leadership. Join with us to help these congregations make the most of these remarkable places to create civic spaces. Philadelphia is watching and the entire nation is watching.”