The other day I picked up a book that reminded me that the literal meaning of ‘hospitality’ as found in the Bible means “loving strangers.”
When we talk about healthy neighbourhoods, we understand that food is a staple that brings neighbours together. But we never thought our favourite spring rolls would play a part in our neighbourhood the way our experience unfolded. At the time, we had only lived in our neighbourhood for a couple years and had been more intentional about connecting with neighbours. At that time, my husband Chad and I were looking for a lady I had bought spring rolls from before at a local market. I decided to post an ad on a Facebook Buy and Sell site, searching for her, and ended up getting a flood of responses from people, telling me who she was and how good her spring rolls were. I messaged her about it and we started talking about the spring rolls and how I would pick them up. We discussed it, and she said she could drop off the spring rolls if I didn’t live too far away. Since I have small children, I thought this would be great, so we discussed where each other live. I told her I live close to downtown Red Deer to which she responded, “So do I.” Then I proceeded to tell her I lived in the Fairview neighbourhood, and she responded with “Oh, I live in Fairview too.” Albeit, this was a surprise to both of us, we continued to tell each other where we lived. “This will be perfect – I will just walk to your house.” She asked for my address and then said, “We are neighbours! I live just a few doors down from you.” So, she came over, and I now have access to an endless supply of our favourite spring rolls. From this time we met, she was able to tell us a lot of stories about our neighbourhood since she had lived there forever. We not only learned a lot about the history of where we lived for two years, but we started to discuss the future of our neighbourhood. We talked about having an ice cream social in the neighbourhood and about the block parties that used to exist. We learned about her history with spring rolls and abut her plans. It opened the eyes of a couple of neighbours in terms of our neighbourhood. As it stands, we were certainly grateful in many ways and have come to appreciate the value of neighbours. And it all stared because I wanted to get some of our favourite spring roles for my husband’s birthday.
Our neighbours longed for their grown children to gather for a brief reunion. Under normal circumstances this is understandable, but our neighbours revealed they have not talked for a few years. At this point they were glad just to be able to come together and eat dinner. It was at the dinner table that the surprise came: “When we sat down at the dinner table we began by saying that we would say grace. This created a reaction from one of our children, who obviously wanted the privilege to say grace before the meal. We were astonished to say the least. But having not talked for so many years as a family, we were not only delighted to be at the table together, but that one of our children was so willing to take the lead at a time like this.”
The beauty was in the story itself, but as neighbours, we were so blessed by their excitement to share this story with us.
A simple gathering of neighbourhood leaders from all over Alberta took place this weekend. The word ‘retreat’ was fitting since our time was gently structured with questions and statements that would make a person think, at the same time allowed us to spend quality time listening to each others stories. Therefore, the participants also became the presenters and there was no threshold between the front and the back. There was no main stage or speaker and the music was a growing collection of musicians from the families who represented the various neighbourhoods. Our gathering took place around tables where we would meet each other at random and enter in a discussion about how to love our neighbours. It seemed that hanging out with people who are intentional about loving their neighbours shed light on how this can be so different from loving without being intentional.
Earlier in the week I went to four different venues in which I presented material on how healthy and vibrant neighbourhoods come to be. Time well spent! But this was nothing compared to the intentional delivery of a small coat my wife sewed for the new born in our neighbourhood. And then, how our retired parks and recreation neighbour felt the need to stop us on our walk to show us his new dog. Many neighbours had to drive around him, which only created opportunities to acknowledge each other. And on the way back we decided to knock on a neighbours door to re-invite him and his wife to see our coffee roasting shop (since he has consistently shown great interest in this), and he answered the door mid shave, but with great joy! The pure motives to love our neighbours can only be surpassed by our intentional efforts. So often the fear and busyness of life can actually keep us from experiencing life.
A few years ago I was introduced to some interesting observations: That it is hard to find someone with celiac disease in Italy due to the way they make their bread and grow their grain. Then there was the absence of ‘attention deficit disorder’ in many countries outside of the western world. Is this true?
This leads to a conversation I had this past weekend regarding Ethiopia and how the welcoming and hospitable culture give reason for why you would be hard pressed to find a depressed person in that country. In fact, the conversation gave way to how people are not even prone to using words like ‘introverted’ or ‘extroverted’ to describe another or themselves. This was followed by a debriefing on how the culture of individuality in North America seemed odd to those who grew up in countries like Ethiopia.
For the majority of the past 80 – 100 years, western culture has been driven to create individuality and independence in a world created by God to be in community. Perhaps that is why Jesus was so big on loving neighbours. Maybe he did have our best interests in mind while we were so busy keeping ourselves distanced (walking on the other side of the road) from our neighbour and creating our own Kingdom so not to be dependent on those who live around us.
So it was no surprise to hear the conversation gently suggest that our challenge to live in community, such as loving those on our road or block, may be a major contributing factor to some of our social illness. The Bible does say that love covers a lot of ground. If we spend a great deal of our time keeping our distance when we were created to be in community, something has to give. Stats do show that those with valuable relationships in the place that they live, lending itself to a sense of deepening community, live an average 5 years longer than those who cannot say the same. It is no secret that healthy relationships have always been key to healthy lives, whether a family unit or a neighbourhood.
And now that I am writing this, I do remember people from other countries finding it kind of odd that neighbourhoods in North America are filled with people who do not know each other’s names, attributes, let alone matters of their neighbour’s heart.
Perhaps you may want to “sock your neighbour.”
There may be nothing spiritual here, so do not read into it….
but it is a great idea to get started in your neighbourhood.
(Read the instructions on the card in the pic below.)
We enjoyed filling the sock with gifts for a neighbour.
Don’t get caught when hanging it on your neighbours
door. And don’t let the dog hear you or it may not be a silent night.
May your neighbour be blessed!
One of the greatest opportunities to meet neighbours is on October 31st. Perhaps the hallowed eve is a holy moment since it creates multiple opportunities for neighbours to connect. The beauty of it is its simplicity, especially when you witness the way neighbours come out to be part of something bigger than themselves. You do not need to organize anything, just make sure you are one of the many neighbours that join the parade, or stand on the sidelines to watch it.
So you may want to take a walk this Halloween to say “hi” to the families making their way around your block. Or you may want to stay on your front yard and make a hot cider stand at the end of your driveway. This is an evening when people use their imaginations, so keep this in mind on an evening when you know many of your neighbours will be outside. Perhaps you may want to display 95 comments on your front door for people to read when they come to your home (don’t take that too seriously).
FYI: The old English “hallowed” means holy, sanctified, “set apart” (as for service). Martin Luther’s 95 theses were meant for all Christians, or all “holy ones” – “saints”. He posted them in 1517 on “All Hallow’s Eve”, or “All Saint’s Eve”, at the All Saints’ Church (the University of Wittenberg campus church) in Wittenberg, Germany.
Martin Luther’s core message?: We are saved by grace, through faith, revealed by God’s Word in Christ.
They came from one end of the block to the other. It was a good, old-fashion, block party on Thursday night. “What was so neat was that I met so many new people,” said one participant. And there were countless number of kids. One parent remarked that her nine-year old was worried there wouldn’t be anyone to play with. “There was never any need to have worried about that,” she said. A basketball hoop, a trampoline, several badminton racquets, skateboards, a football, lawn games and food kept kids and adults entertained for the evening. Rick Abma and Neighborhood Life provided the commercial barbeque, while families brought their own steak, hot dogs and hamburgers. Salads and desserts were also provided for this potluck meal. In the end there was great fellowship and excellent food as many folks chatted the evening away and got to know each other from various areas on the block. The event was so successful that organizers are looking to having another block party soon.
Submitted by a resident of Lacombe.
Inspired by the concept, in my previous neighborhood, my wife and I decided to invest in a seating area – not in the back yard, but in the front yard. It became a place where I’d go to sit in the morning or evening to have a cup of coffee, read a book, etc. Because it was in the front yard, neighbors would say hi and come and have a seat. Many wonderful conversation happened there, and in a small way, I think we enriched the sense of community in our neighborhood by contributing that space. I’ve done something similar where I live now … putting a simple bench out front that says, “Feel free to stop by and chat.”
This article from Mustard Seed Associates does a wonderful job of helping you imagine how your front yard can become a place of hospitality, connection, friendliness, and grace.
It’s a simple thing, but simple things add up, you know?
Recently I made the rounds in our neighbourhood with one of my neighbours. He and I (and our families) take the lead on organizing the annual blockparty on our avenue. Handing out invitations is a great opportunity to connect with our neighbours, so I always appreciate this annual tour. Except for one stop. One of our neighbours is, shall we say, a bit on the grumpier side, so I confess my reluctance to knock on their door. But it must be done, as we want all of our neighbours to feel that they belong. So, we took a deep breath as we approached their house. To our surprise, we were warmly received. I’ve had a number of conversations with this neighbour, but this is the first pleasant one. We walked away wondering what had just happened. In the end, we thanked God for a positive encounter with this neighbour. Sometimes I tend to write people off, thinking they will never change. But every once in a while God surprises me. I’m glad this time the surprise came in the context of our neighbourhood. I look forward to our fifth annual block party.
Submitted by a Neighbourhood Life participant.