Monday’s are awful. This particular Monday is awful as I’m grappling with a situation for which I have no good resolution. I’ve been down all weekend wrestling with this problem, and I’ve been letting myself do a little dreaming. I’ve been thinking about the future and all the good things it holds.
Most of my dreams were very personal, but one dream I allowed myself to dream was a really beautiful dream involving our community. I was going to keep it to myself, but I think maybe other people could use a good and hopeful dream today.
All around the country houses for sale, and so are commercial properties. And so are churches. Properties already zoned for religious use. Properties with parking and event-sized kitchens. Properties with classrooms and large, open worship spaces.
One of these properties is almost ideal for a public temple. Located in the Decatur area of metro Atlanta and sitting vacant, it’s a modern design building from the 60’s that has a sanctuary, a chapel, two fellowship halls, 20+ classrooms, ample parking, parsonage and is just off a major road in Atlanta. And really the removal of a few crosses is all that would be necessary to ready it for another religious organizations use.
I took one look at the sanctuary and I suddenly saw statues of Zeus and Hera gracing the dais, bathed in light. In my mind the building began transforming itself into a modern Greek temple.
I mentally began to rearrange the pews back-to-back, half facing the wall, and half facing the center, and maybe a few left facing forward in the front. The other ten Olympian’s shrines would line the walls of the sanctuary, and the center would be open for various festivals and processions. The only difficulty would be in deciding whether to include Dionysos or Hestia in the sanctuary? Or maybe you place Hestia’s shrine at the entry?
Here in the courtyard, after trimming back the landscaping a bit, you would have an outdoor altar for burnt offerings of grain and incense. At the other end of the courtyard could be a depository for chthonic offerings.
The smaller chapel could be stripped bare and available for local Pagan groups of various stripes to use within reasonable hours and by reservation. It would be a safe, dry, warm and public place for groups to meet, and that would be a useful thing. It could also be used to host concerts for Pagan musicians, with a sound system dedicated to that end.
The fellowship hall could be used to hold a regular agora, or Pagan marketplace, where local Pagan craftspeople could show off their wares and baked goods. Hook up a dvd projector and hold a regular movie night, showing films like Agora and The Trojan Women.
While I don’t know what the inside of this side entrance looks like, from the outside it would appear to make an ideal bookstore/giftshop. Filled with unique statuary and artwork with Greek themes, books, jewelry, incense and household items.
Think about what such a community this could build. Think of the Classical scholars that would come and speak. Think of the weddings. Imagine a week-end lock-in for women to celebrate Thesmophoria. Imagine mountain laurel growing on the property, and being fashioned into laurel wreaths for religious occasions.
Imagine the artwork and statuary not being some of the typical stuff from Design Toscano, but the product of artist-in-residence projects to create new, modern and appropriate images of the Greek Gods. Imagine the cross atop the steeple being replaced with a flickering (electric) torch.
Imagine there being space set aside for classrooms, and regular meetups to discuss Greek myth and religion. Imagine there being limited space set aside that could be reserved for finite periods by pilgrims, so that someone from Montana or Maine could come and spend a week in prayer and study. Imagine a Pagan space that is handicap accessible. Imagine a Pagan space with clean, modern bathrooms.
Imagine there being a place in your neighborhood where you could go and meditate. Somewhere where no one will bother you. Somewhere with no cell phones. Without family or roommates wandering in and out. Where you don’t have to hide your religious jewelry. Where you don’t have to worry about hikers, animals or playing children bothering you.
A place designed just to give you spiritual solace and peace. A place where you can pray without feeling like you’re intruding on another faith, or that you’re somehow betraying your faith by making use of another religion’s temple.
I think this is a lovely dream. Maybe unrealistic. Maybe a pipe dream. I mentioned I was going to write about this to a friend and they laughed at the price of the building. I laughed with them, but then I thought again.
The church that built this building was supported by no more than 350 families, and likely fewer. To make the down payment on the building would require 500 people to chip in $300 each. And if those 500 people pledge at least $50 a month to go towards paying down the mortgage, maintaining utilities, providing services and sticking a little bit back for repairs and emergencies, this suddenly seems like a very possible project.
What prevents us from doing something like this? I’m sure any metro area of size has 500 people who would be willing to pitch in for such a project. And what if there was such a concerted effort? What if Heathens pitched in to build a public temple dedicated to the Aesir and Vanir in Knoxville? What if there was a large public Wiccan temple in Asheville? An Egyptian temple in Raleigh? A Roman temple in Birmingham? An Irish Celtic temple in Jacksonville?
I’m sure each of these cities has empty churches for sale, already zoned and equipped for use by a religious group. These buildings only need slight modification and a re-dedication to Pagan use. It seems really quite easy. Do you think there are 250 people in your city that would be willing to contribute $100 a month to such a project? That’s less than most folks’ cable bill.
Maybe my dream isn’t really a pipe dream. Maybe we’ve just fooled ourselves into thinking that such things are impossible.
[I explore this topic further here.]