In Tysons, what was once a suburban office park is starting to feel more like a city, with transit and walkable buildings increasingly prevalent. But one thing still missing is cultural and civic institutions. There’s no Tysons city hall, no central Tysons library, and not a single religious congregation. Some local faith leaders are hoping to change the latter.
The US has roughly 350,000 religious congregations, the Harvard Institute estimates. While religiosity is on the decline overall in the US, it’s still a major factor in many people’s lives, a Pew Forum Religion in America Landscape study shows. In 2014, 63% of respondents said they believe in God, down from 71% in 2007, and about 53% of those surveyed said that religion is an important part of their life. Most respondents were some form of Christian, while 1.9% were Jewish, and 0.9% were Muslim.
Religion is often a topic people avoid in professional settings. But during a recent Tysons Partnership meeting with Tysons Interfaith, a coalition of spiritual organizations throughout Northern Virginia, it was the subject of animated discussion. As Tysons continues to eveolve, local faith leaders are working with planners to try to create space for residents to meet their spiritual needs.
Live, work, play…pray?
About five years ago, some local faith leaders attended a presentation about the future of Tysons. They noticed something was missing from the comprehensive plan.
“We heard a presentation from the about the plan and the construction that was beginning at that time,” said William Larson, president of Tysons Interfaith, who attended with a few other local faith leaders. “We heard about this grandiose plan, but we noticed there was no space for the spiritual practice of any kind, [not] even a quiet space for meditation.”
“A few of us, of all different those traditions, started scratching our heads thinking ‘if there are going to be 100,000 people living here, how were the spiritual needs of those residents going to be met?’” Larson said.
Today the organization has blossomed into a nonprofit comprised of more than 30 religious organizations, about 12 of which are “really active,” Larson said. The group has been trying to understand and craft its role in Tysons ever since.
“Our primary goal was to have a place for people to engage in their religious traditions within the Tysons triangle,” said Amy Schwartzman, senior Rabbi at Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church. “We also saw this as an opportunity for interfaith engagement for people of multiple faiths to come together to improve the community at large.”
Right now the interfaith group frequently supplies volunteers for Tysons events, and members are also planning a street festival in the spring of next year.
“What you really represent to us is a two-way communication channel with the community,” Sol Glasner, president and CEO of Tysons Partnership, told religious leaders during the meeting. “You represent the living and breathing individuals.”
“The vision—live, work, play—if the ‘live’ fails, the rest of it will fail too,” Glasner added. “And you have had a voice that gives us that ‘live.’”
Creating space for spirituality in Tysons
Swartzman says Tysons Interfaith could be a community resource for residents to be expressive religiously and to learn about other religions. But right now, there’s still no physical space for people of faith and religious groups to meet.
“We did begin with a vision of space, a very neutral space,” Swartzman said. “That might be very far down the road, but I am not going to let go of that vision.”
Larson concurred that several members of the community told him they want a quiet space.
“One thing we heard from different people is they would like a quiet space to get out of the workplace,” Larson said. “In many companies, they have those kinds of spaces, but if the job is part of the problem, going down to the company’s quiet room isn’t going to solve the issue.”
But a dedicated space requires money, and that brings up other challenges for the organization: “There seems to be a need for that, but if we create a quiet space, who is going to pay for it?” said Larson.
In the meantime, Tysons Interfaith members plan to keep listening to residents and meeting with the Partnership to figure out how to proceed. They’re determined to create a space for residents of faith to meet their spiritual needs.