Being a Good Neighbor

The following article was written for the Fall issue of The Riverview Reflector

"Love your neighbor as yourself”. Those are biblical words of wisdom. They are words that we in our congregation have been discussing for quite some time. As a simple sentiment it sounds lovely and inspirational. But when those words become active in real life they take on a whole other level of energy and engagement. That short sentence calls us to action and relationship, it calls us to engagement with people with whom we may not ordinarily choose to engage. I’m quite sure that’s the intent of the Giver of those words; stepping outside of our comfortable place so as to know more of the world we live in and more of who we are in relationship with each other. Such has been our experience at 366 Oakwood during the summer months.

We, in our small church, like to think of ourselves as a welcoming presence in the community. We have a long-standing good relationship with our immediate neighbors for which we are grateful. We are happy to receive any and all who come through our doors. This past year, because of the pandemic, our doors were closed for a long time and our in-person gatherings ceased. And, for whatever reasons, our front steps became the place of gathering for a variety of folks from the neighborhood. Extending our posture of welcome became a little more challenging mostly because we were no longer the ones initiating the interaction.

Extending welcome to people who show up for an event that we initiate, are already engaged in and for the most part control involves far less conflicting emotions and thots than extending welcome to people who show up unannounced in our space, create their own event and don’t invite us. Are we let off the “love your neighbor” hook when the “neighbor” doesn’t fit into the environment that we have carefully crafted to suit our preferences? How do we extend welcome while at the same time ensure safety and respect for everyone?

We are living in strange and fascinating times. During the past months the Church has yet again been exposed for its distasteful qualities and tendencies. People are not knocking on our church doors wanting to come in; they are not showing up because the Church is known for compassion, mercy, generosity and inclusion. People are staying away because the opposite is unfortunately what the Church is known for, at least in some circles.

I am not surprised that the tenets of our faith are literally being tested on our front doorstep. Life has a way of doing this, confronting us, forcing us to articulate in speech, attitude and action, what it is we truly adhere to as our guiding principles. The struggle and working out of our faith is always available for us, if we are willing to take it on.

My hope is that in several months time we can look back on this summer grateful that we have, at least, given some folks positive, respectful interaction with the Church; folks who would never step inside our doors. That will be a step in the right direction.

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