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Pentecostals and planners

Greed, Clara


Clara Greed


Before considering the value of community space, we need to ask ‘what is community?’ According to a range of sociological sources (Greed and Johnson, 2015: pp 271-3 and chapter 14), a community may be defined either as a group of people that have something in common. Or a community may be seen to comprise the residents of a particular neighbourhood or locality: and the two are not necessarily synonymous. The post-war town planners were very keen on creating ‘community spirit’ by means of environmental determinism, that is by putting people together in housing layouts which encouraged contact and hoping that people would get to know each other and spawn ‘community’. This may have worked in the days when nobody had a motor car and everyone worked, shopped and socialised locally. But nowadays ‘communities of interest’ are more relevant are more likely to develop over considerable distances by car or through the internet.

In the same way even religious Christian people nowadays do not necessarily go to church locally, or at all, indeed ‘believing but not belonging’ has been a characteristic of many Christians’ lives (Davie, 2015). They may feel they have nothing in common with their local church but still pray at home, and maintain strong links with other believers through the internet. But one cannot generalise as elderly people, those without cars, those with small children, inter alia, may all still value having a local church that they can get visit easily, ideally within walking distance.

Nevertheless many people still do value the importance of having a community building in the centre of their neighbourhood, (which the church traditionally offered) whether they are religious, or secular. Local halls, shopping centres, parks, coffee shops, sports centres, and pubs, as well as religious buildings, are all places where people can get together. But church halls are still the main non-commercial facilities in many a community, that offer a range of religious and secular activities, including clubs, markets, polling stations, evening classes, art exhibitions, toddlers groups, pensioners groups, and some sports activities: all at a reasonable price or free. One does not need to be religious to participate in any of these activities. However, particularly in traditional villages it may help to be Anglican, which makes people feel entitled to use the church hall, even if they never go to church.

However in localities where there is a greater mixture of ethnic groups and religions, the traditional churches may still open their facilities to all, but other religious buildings, such as mosques, temples and Pentecostal churches, are also likely to offer facilities to their own congregations , for example for catering, community groups, additional schooling, childcare and social gatherings. In fact they may feel unwelcome in traditional white churches. It does not follow that for a society to be equal and integrated, that people have to be ‘the same’, as people still need and want to be different in terms of religious belief (or no belief).

Apart from all the practical uses of religious buildings, many people still value the atmosphere of religious buildings as a place to get away from the outside world, to meditate, even to pray. But one can also do all these things in other community locations that are seen to be of cultural or historical significance, for example in parks, grave yards, historic buildings and ancient monuments, all of which are ‘sacred spaces’ albeit some are secular too. Even if people are totally secular, many still have a longing to pray and reflect, but without necessarily identifying with a particular God or religious creed. Maybe the question ‘is the community more than human?’ comes in here in the sense that human beings are drawing on ancient and instinctive desires to communicate with the spiritual or the divine. For Christians there is the concept of ‘the communion of the saints’ which includes everyone who is both dead and alive in the faith. For others there is a desire to see the world as not being merely physical and material, but a yearning for the spiritual, supernatural and unknown. Many now speak of the ‘post secular society’ as people’s deep desires are not satisfied by a purely scientific, humanistic and rationalistic world view and they may yearn for a new forms of non-doctrinal religion (Mc. Clymont, 2016) .

But modern secular town planning, and indeed central and local government as a whole, has little ‘place’ for all the spiritual or religious aspects of people’s lives. All the useful social functions of churches and other religious buildings may be ‘below their radar’, no doubt partly because it is still mainly white middle class men who make the decisions about the nature of our towns and cities. Many policy makers seem to have a total blind spot towards much of the world of women and children, other ethnicities and classes and religion and ways of life.

But, early town planning and architecture was concerned with religious issues, whether in terms of building entire cities to please the gods in the ancient world, or designing Victorian model industrial towns on the basis of Quaker and other non-Conformist Christian principles. Even in the first part of the twentieth century planners still seem to accept, without question, the need for new towns to be provided with both churches and community meeting places, and, relatively speaking, religion was still seen to be an important consideration nationally. But as the years went on religious demands, such as providing church buildings, were gradually squeezed out of the planning agenda and related legislation. By the twenty first century few planning authorities thought to include policies or requirements on the provision of churches, or other religious buildings in their main Development Plan policies (CAG,2008). It was considered too expensive by both property developers and planners to allocate land for such uses, and many a new housing estate comprises just housing, nothing else, with no local shops, community centres or religious buildings.

Likewise, the planning law regulations for controlling change of use of existing buildings, the Use Classes Order (UCO) sets out a series of categories of land use, such as shops (class A1) and cafés (A3), businesses (B1) industry (B2) , dwelling houses (C3), and non-residential institutions (D1) and places of assembly and leisure (D2) (Greed and Johnson,2014: 49). Churches, mosques and other religious building come within D1 alongside community centres, museums, exhibition halls and so forth, whereas church halls are likely to come under D2 as places of assembly and leisure along with bingo halls and cinemas . So there is no separate Use Class just for religious buildings and they have mixed up with all sorts of other social and community uses. But, this was not always so. Andrea Mulkeen (2014, page 23) found that between 1948-1987 religious buildings were separated out into their own Use Class and given respect, under the post war planning legislation that was the basis of the modern planning system under the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act. But they were amalgamated with other uses following the ‘streamlining’ of the system in 1988. One of the biggest problems caused by religion not having its own proper use class and being put in with leisure and places of public assembly is that it is seen as an economically non-productive commodity which actually detracts from employment and urban regeneration.

Town planning has become primarily concerned with physical, spatial land use issues, and any sort of social considerations are very low down the pecking order. However economic capital and employment factors are still considered very important, such as business and commerce as they are seen as the very basis of urban development. However as Chris Baker (2012) has argued in fact churches and other religious organisations actually provide ‘religious capital’ which is also vital to development, for example in terms of all the ‘good works’ undertaken that help hold up society in times of recession and government cutbacks of essential social services. Likewise it has been argued that other social ‘goods’ especially those provided by and for women, such as childcare and playgroups (often found in church halls), are also ignored although they might be essential to enabling parents to go to work in the first place. Chris argues that religion also provides ‘spiritual capital’ that is the currency of faith, belief, hope, that motivate believers towards such good works and also I would argue provide the power and motivation to campaign for social change (Greed,2016)

Although the planners seem to lack any sense of the importance of religion, they do have their own ersatz religion, namely environmental sustainability: that is protecting the Planet from the excesses of human activity, urban development and traffic. As can be seen from the case studies I investigated in researching the way in which planners treat planning applications from Pentecostal churches who are desperate for buildings to house their growing congregations (Greed,2016), somewhat spurious environmental reasons are often used to turn down planning applications, (along with fictitious ‘health and safety’ reasons) mainly because such churches, along with mosques are seen as ‘foreign and unfamiliar’. There are many examples of churches trying to obtain premises in inner city locations, near to where their congregation lives (which would reduce the carbon footprint in terms of travel and contribute to the social strength of the area) and being refused (Greed, 2016).

Even more worrying than policy makers ignoring religion altogether is for them to minimise its importance and the distinct differences between different creeds, suggesting we can all get along together by sharing buildings with each other. To me this seems the opposite of good diversity policy and shows disrespect for different people’s religious beliefs and the architectural and liturgical variations, even conflicts, in worship requirements. However some would argue that one has to be pragmatic in view of the fact there are many areas, especially new housing estates, which lack any buildings suitable for worship or community use by any group at all! Also some would argue that scooping everybody up into the same ‘community space’ actually encourages inclusion rather than exclusion, although I would want to ask ‘inclusion on whose terms?’ Perhaps it is all a matter of how it done in terms of timetabling the use of the building by different groups. But also more positively sharing space may bring together diverse religious groups in a ‘community of conflict’ as they all realise they are fighting against the same secular planning system. Also people of different ethnicities and religions who share the community or religious buildings for childcare, educational and leisure activities, may become an active of new social networks and campaigns to change secular society, and the planning system, for the better.

Baker, Chris (2012) ‘Exploring Spiritual Capital: Resource for an Uncertain Future?’ in O’Sullivan, M and Flanagan, B (eds) 2012) Spiritual Capital: Spirituality in Practice in Christian Perspective, Farnham: Ashgate.
CAG (May 2008) Responding to the Needs of Faith Communities: Places of Worship: Final Report, London: CAG, Cooperative Advisory Group Planning Consultants.
Davie, Grace (2015) Religion in Britain: A Persistent Paradox, London: Wiley.
Greed, Clara and Johnson, David (2014) Planning in the United Kingdom: An Introduction, London: Palgrave Macmillan (main textbook on town planning)
Greed, C. (2016) Christianity and Planning: Pentecostal Churches, Occasional Paper 1, 2016, Bristol: University of the West of England, Faculty of Environment and Technology.

Mc Clymont, K. (2015) ‘Post secularism, planning and the challenge of the sacred: the case for municipal spirituality’ Planning Theory and Practice Volume 16, No 4, pp 535-554.
Mulkeen, Andrea (2014) The Planning System and Places of Worship: The extent to which the planning system since the second world war has facilitated the needs of faith communities for places of worship, MA in Urban and Regional Policy, University of Westminster (Andrea works for the Church Commissioners).


Greed, C. (2017, June). Pentecostals and planners. Presented at Spaces for Secular Space

Presentation Conference Type Speech
Conference Name Spaces for Secular Space
Start Date Jun 15, 2017
End Date Jun 16, 2017
Acceptance Date Mar 1, 2017
Peer Reviewed Not Peer Reviewed
Keywords religion, urban planning, industrial units, pentecostalism, post-secular cities, pentecostalism, feminism
Additional Information Title of Conference or Conference Proceedings : Spaces for Secular Space