And I have to admit I had my doubts along with a healthy dose of envy and insecurity. Like any good Enneagram Type 4, this is just to be expected. As I walked “hipper”, “cooler” or perhaps more “needy” neighborhoods with my Leadership in the New Parish cohort, I was in awe of how people were living together with this dream. To share life with others in an intentional way in a particular place. To join God there. To work towards a collective dream so that all would flourish. To be in it for the long haul. It just made sense. And all the things that I found to be incongruent or dissonant about the church started to find their home in the context of the neighborhood. The fragmented, broken pieces being fit together in this beautiful picture of what life in community was meant to be. Not the Utopia. But the stubborn hope of new creation popping up in the midst of the gritty and often difficult realities of everyday life. Where our hearts break as human suffering threatens to overwhelm us. And where our hearts ache with the beauty that persists even still. And it struck a chord in me that continues to reverberate.
At first, I have to admit the results were rather dismal. I knew it had to start with me, and my first attempts at neighboring were pretty much a flop. Who knew it was so hard to get to know your neighbors? We held barbecues in our front yard that no one came to. We baked cookies as offerings of friendship that were never returned. My husband would literally run after the neighbor’s car down our private road just to say hello. And we were alone. As church stuff goes, we ended up losing some of the only folks who lived in our Shoreline community. And so it was theoretical mostly, and we struggled for a collective imagination as we read books about loving our neighbors and joining God in our neighborhoods. Was this actually going to work in our busy, stressed out lives juggling all the demands of jobs, school and family? And there were lots of choices to be made about where we would live with some of the highest housing costs in the nation. Many who I had hoped would join us moved away to find housing they could afford. Was this actually possible? I thought it could be, but I didn’t know for sure.
Today, as I reflect on where we are now as we begin a New Year and a ReLaunch for The Practicing Church, I know that it is possible. I don’t know exactly what it looks like or how it will unfold, but I know that we are on to something. Tonight I will gather around the table like we do every Wednesday with the two other families that live within a few houses of us and a handful of others that live within a mile. And we will break bread as we share stories of the holidays -- a wildly successful neighbor party, caroling in the neighborhood, and our Turning Point community meal shared with neighbors and immigrant friends. And we will pray for three families that are looking to move intentionally into the neighborhood - one here in Shoreline and two in Everett. And we will pray for the families in Bothell who are conspiring together to plant a faith community to join God in their neighborhood. And we will dream. Cause it’s the New Year. And anything is possible. If a thirteen-year old virgin can give birth to the Son of God, then I echo Mary’s refrain, For nothing will be impossible with God.
What are you dreaming of this New Year? And as we celebrate the end of the Advent season and God moving into the neighborhood, how is God moving into yours?
by Jessica Ketola