Conflicts Over Shared Space

An online forum contributing to a research project by Dr. Paul Numrich, professor in the Snowden Chair for the Study of Religion and Interreligious Relations

Congregations know about conflict. Space-sharing arrangements are no less susceptible to conflict than any other relationship between groups. Congregations also know that conflicts can be transformed in order to move forward in positive ways.

Consider some common sources of conflict over shared space:

  • Parking: One group is coming, another is going, they bump into each other in the parking lot — sometimes literally!
  • Scheduling: “Our group was supposed to be in this room at this time!”
  • Use of facilities: “That group left the classroom a mess!” “Is it proper for them to use the sanctuary for that purpose?” “What are those smells coming out of the kitchen?”
  • You're invited to contribute to this forum by emailing Dr. Numrich. Describe a conflict over shared space you know about. Was the conflict transformed in a positive way? If not, what happened?

Selected contributions to this online forum will be posted and may be edited for content. (When responding, please indicate whether you prefer to be named or remain anonymous.) By contributing to this forum, you agree to these conditions.


Rev. Mark Harvey, New Covenant and Zion UMCs, St. Louis, Missouri:

Here is a primary learning in space-sharing: ALWAYS have a contractual agreement which includes required compensation. In one of my parishes, a pastor of a small Pentecostal denomination (FEPA) approached me about sharing space to launch a new Swahili-speaking congregation. He had lofty dreams and chose us because the location was good for his target demographic. I was not concerned about sharing with Pentecostals. I WAS a bit fearful about whether or not my mostly-conservative folks would be able to share cross-culturally. But my fear was mitigated by the fact that my small congregation was already cross-cultural, including several African families (Liberian, Nigerian, Ghanan). As they moved in, we quickly discovered the two groups were very different culturally. They held sometimes all-night prayer vigils, sometimes leaving lights on and doors unlocked when they departed. Their ministry included immigrant resettlement, which I admired, but we had to draw a line when we discovered the pastor was housing families upstairs in the church overnight in transition, when we did not have bathing facilities. It came to a head when they had a fish fry in the kitchen, specifically in violation of our contract and of our city fire code, since we did not have a stove grease fire suppression system. After multiple meetings between our trustees and leaders of the church, we finally had to exit them. They did not leave after the first two times they agreed to do so. It was tense and difficult. In retrospect, I believe all of this could have been avoided if we had done two things differently: (1) Required up-front and regular payment for use of space. We gave it to them “free” until they could build enough capacity to pay; and, (2) Signed a contractual agreement not only with the “apostle” pastor, but with the denomination. We never had any conversation with a denominational official.

Now I pastor a second church which was added to that “charge.” They were in negotiation with a Lutheran church up the street with whom they had fellowshipped for many years. The Lutherans had dwindled to 25-30 in a large facility, and had been approached for a sale by a large gasoline/retail firm. Ours is a church which had 1,000 members just ten years ago, and now is 120, worshiping just 60-70. So, we were financially stressed. Our church worked with them to carve out a space-sharing agreement. But at the last minute, the Lutherans found the much smaller facility of a nearby Apostolic Faith mission church for sale. They bought it. Then an Apostolic Faith denominational official approached us, knowing we had been in negotiation for space-sharing. We quickly contracted with them and within a few weeks they were with us. Their denomination pays us monthly like clockwork. It is going very well. They use the Fellowship Hall simultaneously with our worship time, and agreed to swap worship space if and when we need the Fellowship Hall for a meal after worship that Sunday. This worked well on one occasion. And, we have found they sometimes go en mass to worship with other churches of their denomination on a Sunday. They use our pastor's office for prayer before worship, which presents no problem since I am the pastor and I come there Sunday mornings from the other church, so have no need of the office Sunday mornings. We have not yet shared worship or pulpits. I am open to doing that in the future, but so far we have felt no need.