Posted by: dacalu | 30 March 2020

Dedicated Space

Nonverbal Community Part II

In my last post, I talked about the challenges of maintaining community in a time of social distancing. Online meetings provide some connection, but meet different needs and create different stresses than face-to-face gatherings. Teleconferences usually focus on verbal communication. I’d like to walk through a few ways to keep up nonverbal community while still respecting social distance – and still encouraging people to meet online. Summary and recommendations appear at the end.

Dedicated Space

Part of the joy I get from in-person gatherings comes from entering a dedicated space. Meetings involve space, a location set aside to be together with others. It may be short-term, like a ballroom reserved for a wedding, or long-term like a cathedral. It may be very generic, like a restaurant or rec center, or specific, like an airport or movie theater. All of these spaces are dedicated to some common purpose. They remind us that we are not alone in what we are doing. They set the tone for our activities and shape us psychologically – often more than we know.

Dedicated spaces remind us that we are not alone. Others have committed to this location. They have given time, money, and effort to shaping it. The effects can be especially strong when a space has been formed by a large group or over a long time. Three hundred thirty million US citizens look to the Capital Building in Washington, D.C., as the center of government. Westminster Abbey has hosted daily prayer for over a thousand years, 760 in the current building.

More goes into such spaces than opulence or dramatic architecture. Some spaces can be very simple. One of the most celebrated spots in Scotland is the battlefield at Culloden. The forces of George II defeated Bonnie Prince Charlie there in 1745, ending his attempt to seize the British throne. The field has other associations as well. Clava Cairns, a four thousand year old burial site, lies just off the main field, suggesting people have gathered there for millennia. The mysticism of Culloden is known to many through the ring of standing stones central to the plot of the Outlander series. It represents Scottish community and identity.

Perhaps places have inherent power. Perhaps we leave a bit of energy behind when we gather to pray, play, work, or just be in a space. Or perhaps the only power comes from our knowledge that others have gone before. Location matters to us. Continuity and community have a psychological impact through these places. They form an important aspect of community life.

Dedicated space matters to me, and I find such spaces wherever I go, places that connect me to others. I can rest in almost any church. Sacred buildings know what they are doing, even when the congregants do not. Mindfulness and worship have been, literally, built into them. Filled with pray-ers or still at midnight, a Christian sanctuary makes me feel grounded. When I travel, I also visit libraries, like the Manchester Public Library. Both the Victorian reading room, with its silent grandeur, and the front entrance, with quotidian bustle, reflect a sense of civic pride and commitment to the common good.

As an introvert, I find that even a movie theater can help me center myself. I enjoy going alone, where I can sit with a hundred strangers, who share a single focus for 90 minutes, without ever speaking to on another.

Dedicated space provides an important aspect of nonverbal community. We change when we enter familiar spaces (for good and ill). We shape ourselves to the mental and emotional environment of work, home, and public space. For the last four years, I have used the local coffee shop as a social space to be focused on work, away from distractions, yet not alone.

During social distancing, we cannot go out to our favorite places, but we can dedicate local space to a community or an activity. We can reserve a space in the home for exercise, prayer, or work. We might even set up a corner whose sole purpose is teleconferencing, to separate private and public activities.

You do not need a large house. It may be easier to negotiate dedicated space when you have a spare room or extra space, but they are not necessary. In graduate school, I lived in a small apartment, with two modest rooms, a kitchenette, and a bathroom. I created a six square foot chapel with a cloth hanging and an icon. The space was tiny, but it helped me feel connected to my Christian community. It allowed me set aside time, focus my attention, and travel virtually to a space of prayer.

Distance provides its own benefits. Commuting gives us mental space to shift gears. A moment alone in the car. Time to read on the bus. Vital minutes of music or podcast or simple silence that separate community time from family time, work time, or personal time can make a big difference in our ability to connect.

We may have to give up our old common spaces and the physical distance we are used to, but we can still benefit from respecting time and space. We can commit to dedicated space (and time) as a way of maintaining community.


Social distancing robs us the normal “place” aspect of community; we remain in one place.


  1. Create a dedicated community space in your home: a space for public interaction generally, or a special space for each group you want to hold on to.
  2. Talk with others in your community so that your community space can be shaped by the community. Consider sharing a common picture, color, or object to knit you together across the distance. You might all keep the same picture, or light a candle, or go outside to look up at the moon at the same time of night.
  3. Give yourself “travel” time to adjust before and after virtual meetings. Use dedicated time and space to provide the mental, emotional, and physiological space usually created by physical travel.

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