I am Bob Jaeger. I’m President of Partners for Sacred Places, and I have been leading or co-leading Partners for now 25 years.
Partners for Sacred Places’ mission, which is unique in the country — we’re the only national nonprofit that focuses on helping congregations and their communities find ways to keep these buildings going, to keep them preserved, to keep them well used, so that they can remain assets for both the church or synagogue, as well as for the neighborhood or the town.
Partners’ main office has always been in Philadelphia, but over the years we found that there’s been energy and leadership and funding and interest in other cities, and so we’ve been invited to consider opening offices, and we’ve done so in Chicago and in Fort Worth, Dallas. But we really work nationally. We have projects all across the country. We do training and we help congregations use their spaces better and we help them think about fundraising, and partnerships with lots of different organizations.
For example, we work with denominational offices, national and regional, to do training and provide help to congregations. We work with the arts community because one of the things we’ve learned is that churches and synagogues often have space that’s perfect for theatre, dance and music. So we work with arts groups. We work with groups like the Philadelphia Orchid Project, which tries to plant fruit trees and encourage green space to be used to produce food. So we’ll work with them to help churches use their green space in new ways.
We work with a whole range of organizations. We even work with the University of Pennsylvania to do research on how sacred places benefit their community, and what’s the economic value our churches and synagogues. We’re working with University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice. They’re really interested in the kind of the community value of faith-based organizations. So we’ll work with the academic community, with the arts community, with food and nutrition, with religious organizations.
Here is Philadelphia we work with First Baptist Church, which had an empty Sunday school wing and brought a couple theatre companies; Axuka Theatre and Inis Nua, which does Irish Theatre. And they now have a fantastic space for rehearsals and for performances. On the site they even build sets and make costumes.
That kind of thing I think has a lot of promise because it’s a way to help congregations use their assets to full advantage, but do it in a way that lives out their mission. So it’s a win-win. The church is now getting revenue. And I think what we’re finding is that lots of entities in our society are increasingly interested in the public good that sacred places do, so they’re interested in partnering with us.
One of the big questions is why are these places so important? Why do we care so much? It’s partly because these are great buildings and they’re important to their neighborhoods, culturally and contextually. They often have our best stained glass and our best sculpture and our best mosaic, all the artisanry over the years. But further, sacred places have a really critical role in the life of our neighborhoods. It’s where our kids are served. It’s where the hungry are fed. It’s where the homeless are given shelter.
Sacred places often have great space and they want to find new ways to serve the current needs of the neighborhood or the community. So really it’s partly about culture and architecture, but it’s also about the lifeblood of our neighborhoods.
We often are asked how people can find us, because we really do welcome all inquiries and all concerns and all questions. One good way is on our website www.sacredplaces.org. There are ways there to ask a question or to email someone on the staff, or to call us at 215-567-3234 x10. That’s a way to reach us.
Calling us, using the website, we really encourage any kind of communication because we want to be available, particularly in places like Philadelphia where we have a major presence. If a congregation is worried or concerned or sees a challenge or sees an opportunity we want to be there for you. We do welcome phone calls and emails. Please use our website. There’s a host of great resources there. Please contact us.