About developing perspective and the importance of a swing in the church

Sofie Verscheure

Congress | Saturday, 30 nov 2019

About developing perspective and the importance of a swing in the church

Sofie Verscheure

Congress | Saturday, 30 nov 2019

Do you know the moment when you are at a reception with people you do not know? The easiest way to break the ice is to ask: who are you and what are you doing?

Then I answer: my name is Sofie. I have a word shop in the centre of Bruges. But as soon as I want to say that I am also busy with faith, church buildings and spirituality, I start to falter. The problem is that I want to make it clear to the listener that he or she should not hear words such as faith and spirituality too narrowly, not too Catholic and certainly not old-fashioned, that it is about the essence of life, broader than the Church and Rome and what may and may not allowed.

It would be easier if I were a gymnastics teacher, because then an animated conversation about healthy living and the need for exercise will certainly start.

But I found a solution to the stuttering. If someone asks me who are you and what do you do, I now answer: I have a word shop and I am also a perspective developer. Aha, people say, that sounds interesting.

It gives me the opportunity to explain that a society not only needs economics and culture, but also philosophy. That it is about something we all share: searching for meaning and the need for places where big and small life questions are not laughed away.

And that is why I would like to tell you about 2 perspective projects: Symposion and YOT


SYMPOSION is a word shop in the centre of Bruges. Three little text cards at the window of a house once turned out to be a reason for people to knock on the door and ask very personal questions; The first was a young man in love who asked to write a poem for his girlfriend, the second was a man whose wife had died and who wanted to combine a photo of her with a text. It was then that I realized that shops and cafes used to be pre-eminent places where people talked to each other. So instead of launching a pastoral project, we started a word shop. We create greeting cards and small gifts and symbols for moments that matter. We are not subsidized, but have been around for 25 years now and I have 5 employees. Ecclesiopreneurship is a term that is now gaining a lot of attention. With Symposion we have proven for years that the economy of meaning works. There is also a quiet room in the word store. Because I am convinced that there is a great need for contemporary quiet spaces, sacred places.


When Bruges became the European Capital of Culture in 2002, we launched a new initiative. The Magdalenakerk, a listed neo-Gothic parish church, not to be repurposed, but to be reassessed as a public place for a contemporary, spiritual experience.

The initiative got its name YOT with as baseline: laboratory for philosophy of life and room for perspective.

As a lab we have 2 lines of research:

  • How can we revalue churches and other religious patrimony into zones of meaning?
  • How can the Judeo-Christian tradition in dialogue with contemporary culture be an inspiration and perspective for the big and small life questions of people today?

In the church building you see the most visible result of our work:

  • The church was given a new interior based on the question: How to open the church hospitably to every sense-seeking person?
  • The new interior has direct consequences for the way in which the celebrations in the church take place. The transverse design complicates a classic suite at a wedding, for example. People are forced to be creative and personal.
  • the mass of empty seats made way for a symbol surface that can be filled in in various ways: water, but also sand in Lent.

On the square in front of the church you will find ‘In the new rectory’ the workplace of YOT .
With a unique design, the house offers space to groups and organizations looking for new perspectives.

Working in YOT gave us a number of perspective changes that I would like to share with you:

Change of perspective 1: Tradition is never a one-way

Tradition is not a fixed message that we must secure by putting it under a bell jar. Sometimes we still think too much in contrasts like:
religious versus non-religious, secular versus sacred, Roman Catholic versus Christian, … This way of looking is not fruitful and especially not evangelical.

In the philosophical domain, variety and diversity are strengths and riches.

As believers and religious, we have an expertise that is correct, but the ideological experts par excellence are also the baker and his wife, the doctor and her patient, the train driver and the clown in the circus … God always thinks outside of category.

In a Jewish discussion around the idea that there must be an ultimate tradition-truth that cannot be challenged … one goes in search of the middle word in the Torah, the source of all tradition.

Leviticus 10

To everyone’s surprise, they discover that nothing is there. After all, there are as many words on the left as on the right. So in the middle there is nothing but empty space, a beautiful image in itself. But it is also discovered that the last word of the first part is the same as the first word of the second part:

empty space surrounded by 2 x the same word. Curious about the word?
It says Moses searched … he searched …

Tradition is open space and each of us is challenged to seek answers every day.

That’s why we don’t organize Bible evenings with YOT (because hardly anyone comes there), but we do Babel workshops . No speaker-spectator evenings, but open search space. Touch conversations where a bible expert in addition to the mayor or a writer gives his or her view on the biblical text, after which the audience enters into a conversation with both.

After all, truth arises in dialogue.

Change of perspective 2: Importance of a physical place and a swing in the church

Our churches and monasteries are often located in the heart of a city or a village. Usually they are dark closed buildings where you rarely see from the outside what lives on the inside.

  • YOT removed the curtains from the rectory windows and let people see in.
  • In the evening, a large spotlight does not illuminate the church as a monument. The spotlight shines from the inside out and illuminates the large stained-glass window every evening, bringing warmth into the square in all its glory for those who walk or cycle past in the dark.
  • In the months of July, August and September, 30,000 people visit our church.

We organize an annual summer project for them.

As diverse as there are ideas: words drifting from the sky or a Japanese dry garden in the centre of the church.
Or the time when the theme was ‘dealing with questions of life’ and a young artist says that when he lost track, he will sit on the swing outside in the garden.

Since that day, a swing has been hanging in the church on two steel cables. 17 meters high. When people ask completely surprised what the purpose is, our answer is a gesture: an invitation to take a seat on the swing. People then gently rock through the church space. And every time a smile appears on the swing. The swing shows the polyphony of the building: people interpret differently and tradition that stands still dies.

Change of perspective 3: Importance of coaching and guidance

In the word shop comes a young woman who says she is getting married and asks if I don’t know a story she could use? I spontaneously ask if she gets married in church.
No, she says … why do you ask? Because I could possibly suggest a gospel story.

Yes, but, she says, it may be a gospel story and by the way I am getting married in the Magdalena Church.

Many people no longer find the right words and drop out of a church that does not speak their language. In YOT we experience a great openness and curiosity about our Christian and Catholic tradition. But then it is important that we continue to look for a language that moves and connects people.

In education and pastoral care too, a faith language is spoken that is often so predictable.

With YOT we try to share our expertise and guide groups, parishes and communities in inspirational trajectories and individual people in their search for new or forgotten rituals at the crossroads of their lives.


In my own life I owe a lot to religious. They are icebreakers, prophets and freedom thinkers to me. With YOT we often feel more connected to those religious movements than to the ecclesiastical government, which is often hesitant about anything that fluctuates and moves.

After seventeen years, YOT stands for: an exceptionally busy church, a stimulating offer of training, a great involvement of people, international interest.
But after seventeen years it continues to be a struggle to be recognized by subsidizing governments.

Our problem is that we have too many ideas, many volunteers, but never the basic tools to make them a reality. That must be a luxury problem. Imagine that you are an organization with a lot of resources, people and time, and you are out of ideas …

My time is up, but if you are in Brugge again in the near future, you are most welcome ‘In de Nieuwe Pastorie’ or the Magdalenakerk and we will gladly give you a little push on the swing … as long as we but keep moving together.

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About the author

Sofie Verscheure

Sofie is primarily fascinated by the power of words and poetry. Calligraphy is primarily a means of giving shape to those words and their meaning. Since 1992 she has translated her passion for people, spirituality and words in the Symposion project.

In addition, various other initiatives for which she is an inspiration have developed from the same dynamic: the church revaluation project YOT, the training initiative YOT-b and the Experientie, a place of inspiration.