“Tonight, go for a walk around your neighborhood with the knowledge that God’s Holy Spirit is with you. Invite God to help you see where you live, to see the people who have already been placed next to you. You need these people and they need you.” (Paul Sparks, Tim Sorens and Dwight J. Friesen, The New Parish: How Neighborhood Churches are Transforming Mission, Discipleship and Community. [Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014], 48.)
The New Parish is full of insights like these. The whole point is to help congregations reclaim their sense of place – not just to be vibrant communities offering the right programming to appeal to the right clientele, but as contributors, networkers, catalysts to the good in the neighborhoods in which they are anchored. Diana Butler Bass once wrote that the addition of the parish hall to our churches changed the very fabric of who we are, “becoming the denominational ‘homes’ for members in a particular area and initiated an array of programs to meet the religious needs of a changing society. In these churches the parish hall became the most important sacred space on the property.” (Diana Butler Bass, The Practicing Congregation: imagining a New Old Church.Herndon: Alban Institute, 2004], 16). The long-term effect has been a distancing of our meeting places from the communities that host them. The New Parish serves as a corrective to reclaim ministry within the neighborhood – the “walkable community” in which any congregation is situated. (The New Parish, 37).
I enjoy the idea of real ministry in real space and in real time that gets us outside of the building. Yet the idea is scary and probably leaves you with a few questions. Here are mine:
- What is our neighborhood?
I do a lot of walking around New Canaan. The village is our parish. Within it are our closest neighbor – the Historical Society, several other churches, most of the town businesses, the town government, police and fire services, schools and many residences. I wonder how connected are we to these potential partners. If we are to be connected as a local parish, we have to do a better job of not only knowing who people are but start collaborating with them. Are we taking up space or making a difference to those around us? The risk of isolating ourselves is to become (or continue being) a sequestered club, irrelevant to the community where we are located.
- Who are our neighbors?
I spend some of my time getting to know neighbors. I see the same families at the school bus stop in front of the church, the post office workers, people I run into in the library or at the coffee shop, colleagues of the other churches, folks I meet on Elm Street, and so on. I don;t know everyone, but I’m getting to know more neighbors all the time. I don’t spend my time advertising or marketing St. Michael’s to them, in fact it’s the other way around. I’m trying to take the pulse of where I live by connecting and listening to them. I invite you to do this. Spend some time in town,wherever you live, and just walk around your neighborhood. Pay attention to what you hear and what you see, get to know who you meet.
- Who are we in the neighborhood?
One of the strengths of St. Michael’s is that our ministry draws people from several towns. This year our confirmation class had more young people from the state of New York than the state of Connecticut. Roughly one third of our people live in New Canaan. We are the only church in town that fits this description. I count about five households that live within walking distance to our church building. I am quite confident mine is the only one that walks there. This doesn’t mean we are outsiders to our neighborhood. It does mean we have to work intentionally to stay connected with it. Whether our members live in New York City, South Salem, Pound Ridge, Bedford, Stamford, Ridgefield, Weston, Wilton, Norwalk, Rowayton, Trumbull, Milford, New Canaan, or a college campus elsewhere, our shared physical address is 5 Oenoke Ridge Road. This is where God placed us. The same is true of a church you might be connected to – it has an address. That physical space is the center of your neighborhood. All of us are called to connect there – with each other to be sure – but also with our neighbors. Whether we realize it or not, we are part of a neighborhood. The Spirit beckons us to participate in its life.
“The local place becomes the testing ground, revealing whether you have learned to love each other and the larger community around you. In essence, the parish is a dare to your faith.” (The New Parish, 24.)
Here is our charge:
Get out in the neighborhood. Who knows what we will find? Maybe ourselves.
Let’s go. I dare you.
Then (Jesus) opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24:45-48)
10 Discussion questions for congregation leaders:
- What is your “walkable community?” (The New Parish, 37.) Define it by going for a walk!
- What do you notice in your “walkable community?” Businesses, services, other houses of worship, residences, etc. Are there places people congregate? Natural hubs? Places people avoid? Other insights?
- Who are the people no one pays attention to in your “walkable community?”
- Who are the leaders in your “walkable community?”
- Who are the connectors in your “walkable community?” How can you be one?
- Who are the antagonists / conflicts in your “walkable community?”
- What are the physical obstacles in your “walkable community?”
- How many of your people (at church – including yourself) live within your “walkable community?”
- How might you utilize your people who live within the “walkable community” as resources and leaders? How might you include your people who live outside your “walkable community?”
10. For your leadership team – rather than focusing on how you might renew your congregation, ask “How might God use our congregation to renew our neighborhood?”
Reposted on LivingLutheran.com 5/14/2014