“1741: A Collaboratory for Social Innovation” was not the original plan.

“’1741’ [the address of James Lees Presbyterian Church here what most of those involved call it] emerged out of a real challenge to preserve our building,” says the Rev. Phil Lloyd-Sidle, pastor of 30-member congregation. “The session started by asking how committed are we to this space? Maintenance and repairs were eating us alive.”

What started as a somewhat desperate attempt to figure out how to stay in its aging building “has been transformed into a transformative social movement,” Lloyd-Sidle says. “What’s carried me forward ― and I think the congregation, too ― is the shift from problem-solving to casting a new vision for a community here.”

In its “brochure” ― really a single sheet of paper ― 1741 calls itself “a new and expanding community of people and organizations who have come together to create a dynamic workplace and environment for social change.  The 1741 Collaboratory offers community in a creative space and is dedicated to forging compelling new relationships among the participants in the Collaboratory and with the wider city.”

In just a few months, the Collaboratory has attracted 16 religious, justice and arts groups, and a martial arts academy, as well as counselors, therapists, visual artists and other entrepreneurs who buy into 1741’s vision. It’s members include the two PC(USA) congregations housed here ― James Lees and Covenant Community Church, a new church development of Mid-Kentucky Presbytery pastored by the Rev. Jud Hendrix.

Also involved are a PC(USA) Hispanic fellowship and the Ecclesia Project, a ministry of the presbytery that is spawning a variety of new worshiping communities in and around Louisville. A third partner is Looking for Lilith Theatre Company, a troupe heavily populated by women who have come through the PC(USA)’s Young Adult Volunteer program. Lilith stages plays around issues of justice for women, here and abroad.

The vision, says Lloyd-Sidle, ‘is for space shared by individuals and groups committed to a new paradigm, to move out of a landlord/tenant relationship to a cooperative one. There is no ‘owner’ ― except the presbytery ― we are all members, including James Lees.”

1741’s covenant calls its members “to establish and cultivate an environment of hospitality, holistic learning, and collaboration in which all share in:

  • respecting, celebrating, and engaging diversity of various kinds;
  • deep listening ― to ourselves and others;
  • seeking communion with the divine;
  • healing divisions that wound;
  • waging peace;
  • creating beauty, and
  • fostering just and sustainable ways of living together with the universe and one another.”

“This is not just about sharing space,” Hendrix says. “This is about creating something new in our relationships and in the spaces between us. This is a new form of what Presbyterians call ‘connectionalism.’ It’s deeply ingrained in our tradition ― the realization that God is active everywhere in the world. This is what the ‘missional church’ is all about ― to break down those barriers between the church and the world.”

Kathi Ellis of Looking for Lilith says 1741 “is a great complementary arrangement for us ― we all share a way of looking at the world, we all strive to leave the world better than we found it. And the more people there are in 1741 the greater our collective spread into the community.”

Lloyd-Sidle likens the vision for 1741 to the biblical image of the “beloved community.”

“We want to be led by the common good, not by anyone’s notion of doctrinal agreement. Our goal is not to simply ‘use’ space, but to share it for the spiritual health of all of us and the community.”

Hendrix says he’s interested in how the 1741 model “can transfer to the rest of the church. “This is an alternative to the ‘get more members or close’ mentality so many churches are trapped in. This is another option for churches everywhere … It’s where the emerging church is surely headed.”