Thin Places

Recently, I heard an NPR story about correspondent Jacki Lyden’s hometown, of Delafield, Wisconsin.  She talked about her memories of that place and particularly the Church that was built in 1851. It is a building cut of true oak from tall timbers, so as to avoid knots in the wood.  It stands red and majestic on top of a hill.  The pastor referred to the Church as a “thin place.”  I think that is a very interesting way to think about any church or even government buildings, massive with thick walls, nearly impenetrable.


But to think of a church or government as a thin place says a lot about its connection to its history, its community and its mission and as the Priest said in the story “a place where God is intimately present, revealed and felt.”  A thin place is one where a community of people, perhaps in the case of Northern Initiatives, Board and staff, have taken those thick barriers and stripped them down to be open, inclusive, risk taking and unafraid of what the future holds.


Points of Connection


I think the notion of building thin places is also something that CDFI’s do well.  We use money, granted or loaned to us, with many requirements and as best we can insulate our customers by managing the burdens of regulation or reporting.  Many of our banker friends are skilled in this practice too.


Can you create places that are too thin?  Of course.  That is precisely what fueled the mortgage crisis in the last decade.  Extending the prospect of homeownership without attention to collateral, underwriting etc. created a path of massive exploitation for wealth over building thin places to allow for the creation of wealth.


…..and Understanding


The risks are high for those of us who help people to start and grow businesses, and the risks are even higher for those who take this path.  Forbes Magazine estimated that 19% don’t make it one year, and among restaurants it is 17%.  The SBA estimates the mortality rate for new businesses is 30% at 2 years and 50% at 5.  The odds are definitely stacked against those who would try, which is precisely why creating thin places is critical to their journey.


–Dennis West, President

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