Ave Maria is a planned town near Naples, Florida which will be devoted to Catholics. As planned, it will have 3,000 full-time residents with an additional 5,000 college students in attendance at Ave Maria University, a new Catholic University. This is not to say that non-Catholics will not be allowed in, though they might feel uncomfortable.
When I first heard about this planned community, I couldn’t help thinking of Disney’s Celebration, Florida — a community planned by Disney that was scuffed at when first announced in the mid-1990s. (See Slate for a slide show of this community.) However, the naysayers were proved wrong and Celebration has become quite a successful community.
What this also led me to think about was the whole idea of community — something that had been the purview of religion for centuries but seemed to slip away more recently. Religion had ceded community to secular institutions, which did not in many cases do a particularly good job in fulfilling people’s needs. When the church growth movement discovered this obvious market need, they worked to fill it with a vengence. In fact, the ability to provide community is one of the things that has helped make megachurches so successful. Many megachurches are erected at busy crossroads in newly developed exurbs. While the municipalities may not provide much in the way of community building, the megachurches stepped in to fill the void for many transplanted Americans.
Ave Maria eliminates the need to go to the megachurch. No matter where you are you are in the “sacred space.” I find that kind of creepy. I certainly understand the need that we all have for community. I’m just not sure that a church shouldn’t be balanced with the secular.