I moved last month. If you haven’t seen a blog post about the spiritual exercise of moving , or the theological value of letting some things go, blah blah blah, it’s because I’ve been too overwhelmed to write anything. Moving on… we love our new house, and its wilderness views. (I’ll post pics soon).
Bad news: the neighbors. To be fair, I’ve only met two of them. One was nice enough, but did not seem at all interested knowing the people next door to her. I went out of my way to speak to her—in her yard—when I was moving some stuff in. 6 weeks later, I have not seen her again. The other man I met—well, he was not nice enough. Let’s just leave it at that. No derby pie for him! [“What’s that man’s name?” asked my very friendly 2-year-old?” “I don’t know,” I answered. “He doesn’t want to talk to us…”]
As far as other neighbors go, I have yet to run into them. Or even see them in passing. Maybe it’s the heat, maybe it’s the housing crisis, but the neighborhood seems sort of bereft of human contact. Could there really be that many empty houses on one block? Possibly… newer neighborhoods took the worst hit in the recession, and many lovely new homes are just sitting there (which is how we moved into one, quick and cheap!) I’m going to wait until fall-ish and try again, but I am not encouraged. Because I may just have to admit that most people, these days, are not real interested in knowing you, if they don’t know you already…
This is one of the many reasons that I am grateful for the ministry of Foothills Christian Church, where I am the pastor. Every new person to cross our threshold comments on how warmly welcomed they feel by our congregation. If we had to identify one spiritual gift of our church, I’d say it was hospitality. We feed people, we clothe and comfort people, we want to know their name, and we actually remember it when they show up again. We are good neighbors. We seek to extend the same grace to others that we have known in Jesus Christ.
The isolation that I’m feeling in my new place is nothing unique or new. We have long known that people in this major metropolitan area, though surrounded by millions, feel more alone than ever. For a church that has a special gift for hospitality, I’d say that epidemic of solitude is an invitation to ministry. I’d say it is a beckoning of the Spirit to fill a void that only the Body of Christ can fill.
That is why, this fall, Foothills will engage in a learning and prayer process, discerning what it means to be an “Open and Affirming” congregation. It is why many progressive, mainline churches are choosing to identify themselves in this way. OnA not something that you just up and decide to “become” one day. Rather, it is an invitation that a church, uniquely gifted for hospitality, must one day, finally, speak out loud. At Foothills, our leaders have already answered the call to proclaim this inclusive gospel in our time and place. Now it is up to the rest of the body to give life and breath to this exciting new vision.
Foothills has long been a church that welcomes all people. It is written, spoken, acted and felt in everything that we do together. I feel that many of our churches, in fact, are the kind of churches that that welcome all people. So why is it that, in public polls, the first associations people make with Christianity are anything but kindness, welcome, and inclusion?
I suspect it is because, however loving and inclusive we might be, the Church has too long gotten by on “nice enough.” Meanwhile… well, the neighbors are feeling lonely, and God did not call us to be “nice enough.” God calls us to share radical, life-giving, world-shaping good news that includes all people. All people. Regardless of age, race, gender, sexual identity, economic status, faith heritage, or ability. Hmmm… that sounds like a mission statement to me. Mission statement, invitation, challenge, and Spirit-door.
We already do that, our churches are saying. Well, yes, we do. Right now, we are nice enough. Speaking that invitation aloud, however, is another matter entirely. For such a time as this… nice enough doesn’t cut it. I’ll keep posting in the next few months as Foothills engages in this faithful process, and as I keep trying—and oh, I WILL keep trying—to meet my neighbors. Whether they like it or not.