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Love Your Neighbors
Photo: Kameron Bayne
Space is at a premium in urban neighborhoods as reported in the February 5, 2006, Washington Post. The catchy headlines in the “Style” section sum up the issue and the distance that has developed between churches and their community:  “Neighbors Pray for Deliverance—Logan Circle Group Wants Churchgoers Held to Parking Laws.” The headline on page 6 says, “Worshipers’ Cars Frustrate Neighbors."

The article points out one of the side effects of an increasingly secular society. As gentrification takes place, new neighbors frequently exhibit impatience with large institutions that attract large crowds. Despite the history of churches as part of the neighborhood (dating back decades, even more than a century) or their role in life’s transition point such as weddings or funerals, churches frustrate new residents who are impatient with the impact of additional cars during worship services and other meetings throughout the week. Even those who are concerned about how gentrification is affecting their area are frustrated with being blocked by poorly parked vehicles or lack of parking spaces near their homes.

The debate rages throughout this neighborhood. Petitions have been filed, officials have attempted to respond, church leaders have provided their perspective, and citizens’ groups have debated.

Is It Possible to Get Along?

The article includes reactions from some of the ministers of the churches in the neighborhood (which are among more than 600 churches in the city). They report that congregants are frustrated, too, with the lack of parking and disappointed that previous parking arrangements have been revoked and that development has removed parking lots. The solution for some congregations is to move out of the city, to abandon the city for more spacious accommodations in the suburbs.

Use this example of the intersection of secular and spiritual to consider how your congregation is fitting into your neighborhood. Study your neighborhood, including the number of churches and residences. Review your congregational list to see how many live in the community and how many commute to church activities. Identify issues such as parking and public transportation that affect the community. Consider how your congregants are involved in community groups and services that your church provides to the neighborhood. Discuss these findings with your congregational leaders and search for new ways to interact in a positive way with the community.

The close proximity of urban living offers new challenges for those who seek to follow Jesus’ directive to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 13:34).

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