70s Rock Revenge & A New Community
So in between YOUTH 2011 in Purdue and Sacramento, I took a Sunday off of church – I had fallen behind on my yard work with so much time on the road and my front yard was in desperate need of weeding and general TLC. Little did I know that by heading out in the cooler morning hours for some manual labor would still give me a theological moment!
I live half a block from a Catholic church – St. Louis of Englewood to be exact – and I normally only see their parking lot fill up on Friday and Saturday nights for evening mass and bingo, since I am usually at St. Luke’s UMC on Sunday mornings. Denver has been hot recently, so I wanted to get my project started before the heat of the day cranked up.
At about 9am, halfway through my weeding project, it was obvious that church was going to start soon – the church bells were ringing and cars were starting to stream down my street looking for parking spots. Church going drivers started to park in front of my house by 9:15. As the minutes passed, the drivers looked more and more hurried, not wanting to be late for church. At 9:20, the cars had reached a home located 2 houses further down and across the street from my own home. That homeowner had left with his elderly mother for breakfast at 8:30am – and church goers had taken up every available inch of asphalt to park in front of his house since no cars were parked there when they arrived.
At 9:45 I see my neighbor’s car turn into our street, and slow down to look for a spot. His windows are down because of the heat, and as he realizes that there are now parking spots left on our block – I hear him shout “#$*@$ing church!” as he speeds up to look for a parking spot on a block adjacent to ours. 20 minutes later, I see him turn the corner to our block as I’m on a water break (hydration is important!), and I can still hear him muttering in anger at the lack of parking in front of his house. 5 minutes after that, as I start pulling weeds out of my columbine flower bed, The Who’s “My Generation” comes blasting out of my neighbor’s house at full blast – accompanied by him standing on the porch shouting phrases of anger at St. Louis, the only ones of which I can repeat are “Why don’t you just all go away?” and “What do you think of this church?” Other 70s classic rock and epithets make my yard project pass very quickly over the next half our – but it also planted a question within me. Is this my neighbor’s only experience from this local church?
The question kept tugging at me during the rest of my day, well after the weeds had been pulled and my lawn watered. Does my church conduct its work only paying attention to the effect it has on people once they enter its front doors? How heavily skewed is my perspective about my church’s role and effectiveness in our community because I am so active in my church? How does my church affect its surrounding neighborhood, positively or negatively? For all the good that churches do for those that are part of the body, how much good is undone by a lack of attention to those outside of the church body? Does my neighbor’s experience, with something as simple as parking spaces, affect how he views organized religion in general?
While I cannot comment on how every church affects the community they are surrounded by, I should encourage all of us to reach out to the at large communities where our churches are located. Jesus calls us to a new way of living, a new community, a “Koinonea”. A place where we can keep perspective, put the needs of others before our own, and love our neighbors as ourselves. I believe living this kind of community also helps a church be more attentive to the context where its ministry takes place.
Take a moment to ask yourself, how your church affects the community surrounding it? What is the average ‘un-churched’ person’s view of your church? How do you encourage yourself, your congregation, your ministry, your young people to live into a new community of koinonea?
Who knew my ‘un-churched’ neighbor would provoke such questions for me on a Sunday morning. I’ll be in Sacramento wrapping up Youth 2011 pieces this coming Sunday, but I may just have to see if this scene repeats itself in August some time…