Walk to Church

By Jesse Thomas

Ever since moving to Utah, I’ve had the intuition that nobody should be driving to church (of course, except the pregnant, disabled, elderly, etc.). I have witnessed perfectly able-bodied individuals hop into a car and drive less than a quarter-mile to get to the meetinghouse.

LDS churches around central Provo, from the Church’s official meetinghouse locator

LDS churches around central Provo, from the Church’s official meetinghouse locator

I’ve seen this happen in Davis County, northern Utah County, and here in Provo–while living at Wymount Terrace. Less than a quarter-mile. It’s just another symptom of our entrenched automobile-only thinking. And despite the fact a large majority of members live within about half a mile of buildings in Provo, the church continues to build parking lots with usually over 100 stalls around them.

Here’s the deal, having LDS churches scattered across neighborhoods all over Utah is actually an advantage to forming move livable and enjoyable communities because they are already a part of neighborhoods that otherwise have little or no mixed land use. They currently are the best hope for community in our isolated neighborhoods.

Eric Jacobson, the author of  The Space Between: A Christian Engagement with the Built Environment, argues that car-centric, suburban thinking is affecting our spiritual lives. While discussing the way that our built environment interacts with our society in an interview with Christianity Today, he said, “Churches shape the built environment either by becoming a key gathering spot within a particular neighborhood or by becoming a kind of alien presence in a neighborhood where a whole bunch of cars from ‘who knows where’ show up intermittently throughout the week, but especially on Sunday morning.” The churches are in our neighborhoods, it’s really our choice how much we allow them to benefit our spiritual community.

Norman Rockwell catches the sentiment.

Norman Rockwell catches the sentiment.

Think about how a weekly routine of walking to church can enhance your life. Health benefits of walking places have been well documented on this blog here and here. It gives the chance for more interaction with your many of your neighbors that are also heading to church. And doesn’t the whole idea of walking to church have a romantic feel to it? It’s quaint. It’s about enjoying the company, the conversation, and the moment.

So I can hear the objections already: “It’s winter outside; I’m cold!” “You try walking to church with little kids!” Well fine, wait till spring. As for the kids, you would know that it is hard enough for most kids to keep their energy pent up for three hours at church. Why not let them get some of that energy out on the way to and from the meetings? And do you really want to have to go through the extensive process of loading the kids into car seats and boosters two more times each week?

And as a bonus, biking or walking to the temple is certainly doable for many here in Provo. Despite the hill that the temple is on, there are bike lanes and racks at the grounds. And the future city center temple will definitely be a walkable venture for many of Provo’s residents in downtown neighborhoods (not to mention that there are already a few meeting places for friends of faiths other than LDS already located in downtown).

Jesse Thomas is originally from Chicago and came out to Provo to attend BYU. He will be graduating in April  2013 in Middle Eastern Studies and Arabic. He and his lovely wife plan on moving to DC after graduation to pursue work in international affairs. Visit his blog at byubathrooms.com.

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6 Comments

Filed under biking, commuting, Mormon

6 responses to “Walk to Church

  1. Adam

    Community gardens at church buildings? Would probably help build unity in wards as well as provide fresh fruits and vegetables.

  2. I think this is absolutely brilliant!!

  3. I’m from Chicago too and I sort of had an expectation that Utah wards would be similar to the parishes in the parts of Chicago that are more Catholic than Utah is Mormon. The parishes share the same boundaries as the neighborhoods they’re in and they’re also the backbone of the community. I didn’t go to mass on Sundays, but I was as Catholic as everyone else the other six days of the week: I went to the neighborhood (parish) school, was a member of the neighborhood (parish) scout troop, and played in the neighborhood (parish) little league, etc. I also walked to all of those activities.

    Unfortunately LDS wards seem based more on numbers and demographics than neighborhoods and geography. My ward meets 1.5 miles away in Foothills even though I live in Joaquin. And it’s named “Provo Peaks”. . . Is that even a real place?

  4. Pingback: Houses of Worship, Not Cookie Cutter Churches | (pro(vo)cation)

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