On Sunday afternoon, October 25, our church took a driving tour of the neighborhood our building is in.
What, if anything, did we learn about our church’s neighborhood by driving around on Sunday afternoon? I think we would all benefit from further conversation about this topic, but here are several of my own reflections.
First, the diversity of our neighborhood stands out starkly to me. The drive north through Hilshire Village, past the old church parsonage, onto Long Point avenue never ceases to expand my thinking. This is a drive through the border of 2 separate realities. Though we don’t directly sit on this boundary, this is our location: incredible gentrification, development, affluence, and relative homogeneity sit right next to diversity, an amazing blend of cultures, poverty, and rows of apartments. Walmart, a store I generally detest on ethical grounds, has greatly inspired me by their placement of the world’s first and only U.S. Spanish language store. They put their best money-making research and development minds together and found that here, more than anywhere else, a Spanish language store could thrive. I ask myself every time I see it, are we Mennonites as bright as the folks down at Walmart? Can we too put our best and brightest minds together to assess who is living in our neighborhood, and how we can best reach out to them?
Second, though some needs may be more evident on the surface, I’m deeply struck that every single home, business, and community in our sphere of influence needs the gospel that Christians claim to already participate in. The folks who live in the gentrified “McMansions” (what my Scavenger Hunt partner called them) along Westview need God/salvation/joy/discipleship as much as any poor apartment family up on Long Point. Is loneliness and isolation a key life issue for those who live in Hilshire Village; the same way that poverty and vicimization is perhaps the story of others in our neighborhood? Don’t all people suffer the effects of their own pride, sin, innapropriate sexual desires, love for money, greed, and belief in violence that redeems?
When I drive through our neighborhood I celebrate the diversity I see and the gifts that come with it! I long to be a church that is open to rich and poor, black, brown and white, life-time Christian or new to the faith. I also feel the stress and pain of city living on each of the streets, and in each of the homes I drive by. And I know that Houston Mennonite Church offers something special to every person and family in our neighborhood. We offer worship, prayers, and discipleship that can introduce our neighborhood to the God who gives life. But the most important thing we can and do offer our neighborhood is ourselves. We are a Christian community, formed by the gospel of Jesus Christ to love and be loved by others!
So, it is not about finding the right program to reach some specific need, or crafting specific words to say to specific people. It’s not even about locating a handful of local pacifists who need Jesus. No. It’s about being ourselves. It’s about seeing ourselves as part of God’s good news proclamation to the people across the street and around the world. It’s about welcoming our neighbors in to the deepest levels of our faith and of our faith community. Finally, it’s about opening ourselves to the transformation that God is bringing to us, and praying for God’s kingdom to come here in Houston.