I have some really great news—at least to me!
After eighteen years of transitional ministry and interim positions, I finally bought a house. I am absolutely thrilled and delighted! The house was built in 1900 and has all kinds of quirky character to it, a little like me.
I chose it for a number of reasons: it was close to my grandchildren in Oregon City; it was in my price range; it keeps me close to the county roads for good summer cycling; and the house was just the right size for this one-person household, small enough to take care of and big enough to entertain guests and family.
But as I was moving in I realized that my experience might be a lesson for many of our churches. I realized that the neighborhood I was moving into, at least on the surface, represented people who don’t look like me, think like me or act like me. I realized that the adventure I was about to embark on was sounding vaguely familiar to the refrain I have heard from so many churches: “Over the years the neighborhood changed around us. We feel like strangers in our own land.”
This picture from my moving van is this:
- The people in the neighborhood look different from the typical upscale Presbyterians with whom I spend much of my life.
While the people I know often park their cars in garages and pay mechanics to work on them, it’s not unusual in my new neighborhood to see a car up on blocks or with the hood up and a couple of men tinkering with tools.
- I am more used to seeing storage units used to conceal possessions, but many homes here have extra appliances, unused wood, and surplus furniture stored under protective eaves or even on the lawn.
- While most of the yards are pretty well-kept, only a handful are what I would call a manicured lawn.
- Trucks and service vehicles parked on the street expose that the neighborhood is probably more working class than educated professionals.
- At two nearby houses, empty Coors cans, soda cans and cigarette butts litter the front yard and driveways.
This year we have become painfully aware of the structural biases inherent in our system. We have had to be honest with ourselves about what the Black Lives Matter movement teaches us. We have seen a violent attack on the Capitol building by people who have felt left behind by a “liberal elite.” We are more divided than ever. And the division lives within our own hearts.
As I move into a new house and a new neighborhood I want to make sure that I am contributing toward the healing of our nation and communities rather than exacerbating it. I want to overcome my own biases and now I have an opportunity.
I have decided to be intentional about not letting my biases get in the way of creating community in my new neighborhood. I offer this as a gift to you. If you are in a church where the “neighborhood changed around you” and you feel like strangers in your own land, I hope this can be helpful.
Here are my intentions:
- I will get to know my neighbors and accept them for who they are;
- I will not assume that I have more to offer the community by virtue of my education or professional status;
- I will be a good neighbor offering help where I can and asking for help when I need it.
- I will assume that my new neighbors have as much to offer me as I have to offer them;
- I will look for God to show up in un-expected, non-Presbyterian ways;
- I will assume that the healing of our religious/political/social divides is best done one neighborly relationship at a time;
- I will maintain my own character without judging their character;
- I will use my Christian faith to connect rather than to divide.
- I will assume that this is an opportunity to grow, to learn, and to become a more inclusive person.
- I will even drink a Coors if that is what it takes to bridge the great American divide.
Our faith reminds us repeatedly to welcome the stranger. And, in these days, the stranger is probably living right next door to us.
Let’s get to work.
By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades