This article originally appeared in our August 2014 Connections newsletter. Read the entire newsletter here.
Throughout the summer, members and friends of First Baptist have joined together on Tuesday nights for Downtown Prayer Walks, organized by our Deacon Chair, Dr. Laura Owen. In addition to providing time for corporate prayer and community, the walks have helped to expose us further to some of Greensboro’s distinct downtown locales – places like Elsewhere, which self-describes as a “living museum in a former thrift store.”
Located on the 600 block of South Elm, just across from Mellow Mushroom, Elsewhere has an eye-catching open storefront where hanging swings invite passersby to sit, and vibrant colors peak curiosity. Once inside, Elsewhere becomes a fascinating model of creativity and imagination.
In 2003, Elsewhere Executive Director George Scheer was traveling through Greensboro with friends while on spring break during his senior year of college. He stopped to check on the abandoned thrift store that had been operated by his late grandmother, Sylvia Gray. What he found was a three-story building packed full of materials and goods, collected over decades and arranged precisely to his grandmother’s specifications. To many, it looked like endless clutter, hoarded and held together according to the idiosyncrasies of its collector. But George and his friends saw an opportunity to use all of Sylvia’s collected goods as the raw material for creative projects. So for the last decade, Elsewhere has functioned as a living art museum and workshop, drawing artists from all over the world to come work with the materials and collaborate with one another. Each artist stays for a time and adds her or his touch, sometimes even building on the work of another who came before them. There’s only one rule: nothing leaves. Nothing is sold. Nothing is thrown out.
I recently took a tour of Elsewhere with a group of friends, and as I listened to George describe its vision, I was struck by the insights it offers to those of us in institutional life – particularly church life. So many leaders want to start from scratch. A blank slate is so easy and clean. Church leaders, in particular, can be tempted by the arrogance that can convince us we are making it all up as we go along. But that’s not the work of the church. We are here as artists, not inventors. There is an inheritance that we find. Some of it might look like clutter – hidden away in a corner, or tucked away in a drawer – but to those with vision and awareness, it is a vast resource of material that can be utilized for the creative work inspired by the Spirit. We artists pass through for a time, make our own mark together and individually, and then leave the work to those who come after us, trusting that they will receive what we leave and repurpose it into something new: hopefully an ever more bold and compelling presentation of the grace of God.
Next time you’re downtown in the 600 block, or waiting for a table at Mellow Mushroom, wander to Elsewhere. You’ll be welcomed warmly. You can sit on the swings, walk around, or interact with the items you find inside. As you do, you might even see something that looks familiar. As one Elsewhere artist has said, “This is a place where existing things continually find new life.”
We know a place like that, too.