May 12, 2020

Nurturing Community in Your Neighborhoods… Even Now!

True confession: in my pre-COVID days, I always had good intentions about being a good neighbor. I thought about joining the neighborhood association, had casual conversations like “wouldn’t it be great to have a block party” but never made it happen, met people whom I intended to get together with but never did, but mostly, I would raise my hand and speak when passing, pick up trash when I saw it, and disappear into my backyard sanctuary for solitude, gardening, and fellowship with friends (most of whom are not neighbors).

This kind of describes a lot of pre-COVID 19 churches I know, too. They are friendly to their neighbors (the people and business owners), they care about the appearance of the neighborhood, they offer assistance to those in need… but often, friendly church members park in front of the church, enter the church doors, and find meaning, and fellowship with people like them inside the walls, and work to grow and nurture what they find there.

I can almost look back to those church days with some measure of nostalgia. While it always felt uncomfortably comfortable, it was familiar, it was easy, and it was stable… or was it? It’s time to get real and let go of our attachment to what is comfortable, familiar, easy, and stable. Those days are gone for a while… for a long while (or perhaps it was just a myth). We are now pilgrims on a new journey. We may not know where we are going or how we will get there, but we have left the building… and we have left the building together.

While the reason we left is tragic and scary, we are now outside of the secure and familiar, and we are outside together. This part of the story is good news for us and good news for our neighbors. COVID-19 offers us a chance to pivot. What/Who can we see now that we haven’t seen before? What opportunities for connection, joy, support, love, collaboration/ministry in your neighborhood and your church’s neighborhood are just waiting to be noticed, named, and nurtured?

A few years ago I was in Canada and had a conversation with a friend who was describing how her remote, semi-resort island, community survived the off-season. She talked about local restaurants that wanted to keep some connection to the year-round residents in the winter while still supporting their employees. The local restaurateurs got together every year after “the season” and mapped out who would be open and when. They alternated weekends, and shifted nights during the week so that there were always options for the locals. They even shared employees so that full-time pay could be maintained. I must have looked stunned, because Caitlin smiled and said, “You know survival of the fittest is NOT our evolutionary trajectory. Our evolutional trajectory is community, it’s collaboration. That is how we will survive and thrive.”

I like the word “pilgrim” because traditionally most pilgrimages were acts of devotion, they were adventurous, and they were communal. Perhaps we can see a newly forming desire and intention toward neighborhood connection as our pilgrimage together. It is who we are called to be, and it is how we will survive and thrive. Learning anew what it is to “neighbor” and “be neighbored” is a holy journey and while we may not be able to join hands, we can still find creative ways to have important conversations, to reach out, to collaborate for the good of our own hearts and for the good of our neighbors!

Are we ready?