"Won't You Be My Neighbor:" A Small Church Ministry Reflection
by the Rev. Dr. Claudia Nalven, Rector of St. Andrew's by the Sea, Port Isabel
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” This commandment has put on flesh in surprising ways at St. Andrew’s by the Sea in Port Isabel.
Shortly after the pandemic, we decided to be good neighbors and throw a neighborhood block party as a way of bringing people together again.
We invited the fire department to bring their trucks. We hired a raspa vendor, recruited a face-painter and musicians, bought a ton of hot dogs and buns. A big sign went out on roadside. We knocked on doors with fliers and posted notices in Facebook.
The morning of the big day was cold, windy and rainy. I wondered how many hot dogs we could eat by ourselves. As the morning progressed, the rain slowed, and people started trickling over. Families we had never met, and neighbors we had never seen out. Children, in our own backyard!
Since then, we have organized more events: a summer picnic with a waterslide, a Trunk or Treat party, a baby shower, various dinners, an Easter Egg hunt, and, for this summer, we have planned an Ice Cream Social.
St. Andrew’s is finding that the idea of neighbor reaches out organically beyond our next door neighbors. For example, we invite to all our events our students in our English as a Second Language program. And our parishioners find that our block parties are a really easy venue for inviting their own neighbors.
One question I get asked is: “So have these gatherings translated into Sunday morning?”
The Answer is, "Yes!" - but not in a straight line. What they have done is increase the number of people we can invite to church. Now that we have a relationship with them, we can invite them to a Bible Study or the Alpha Course. We can offer to pray with them when they are sick, or provide help when in need. Last year, we threw a baby shower for a new mom.
We are seeking, not to recruit our neighbors - but to love our neighbors as ourselves, so that they may know “that the Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood,” to paraphrase Eugene Peterson’s Message.
The Rev. Dr. Claudia Nalven is the Rector of St. Andrew's by the Sea Episcopal Church in Port Aransas, Texas a community of faith where people from every walk of life find a home.
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