You never know what opportunities are going to present themselves to engage with our church’s literal, actual neighbors. Spring of 2021, the neighborhood around Aldersgate UMC was notified that there was a proposal for a development and a rezoning request being presented to the Camelback East Village Planning Committee and ultimately up through the planning and zoning boards of the city of Phoenix. Some of the neighbors had questions and concerns about the 3-story townhouse development that was proposed, so we started meeting at the church as a neighborhood group to get to know each other and learn how to engage in the public meetings with the developer and the committees. Over the course of the last nine months, I have learned (or relearned) a few things about rezoning, but more importantly about neighboring I wanted to share:
- People are fascinating! Most of us know this, but it’s easy to forget. It is amazing to meet the people who
live around us and our churches. I met an insurance agent and a school superintendent, a former state
government director and a missionary. And those are just their jobs. I met over 40 fascinating people who have diverse life experiences and perspectives. It felt like a treasure hunt to be able to get to know people who have lived around the church for over 40 years and others who just moved in.
- Relationships are the outcome. The neighbors knew that engaging with the zoning process would be difficult, but we went into the discussions knowing that if the only thing we ended up with at the end is that we have better relationships with our neighbors, we win! The developer made an early concession to reduce the complex to two stories and fewer units, but there were still some concerns that kept the community engagement going. After the last planning committee vote that granted the rezoning request to the developer, a neighbor hosted a happy hour. The constant theme in every conversation was how happy everyone was that we are now friends and have met or reacquainted ourselves with each other.
- Being the church takes many different forms. As I was representing Dayspring and Aldersgate in helping to coordinate the neighbors and keep communications going, my mantra was that the church is working to be
a good neighbor, and we want what is best for the neighborhood and the broader community. Our role was to help our neighbors engage in the public process and have a voice. By the end, the neighbors understood that the church was trying to live out that mantra. We started with providing meeting space and snacks, and by the end, we were established as an integral part of the neighborhood. While engaging in a rezoning request might not be the most obvious work of the church, the Aldersgate and Dayspring Arcadia leaders realized that this was an opportunity for relationship building. In a world where there are fewer and fewer places that people gather, we became a neighborhood gathering place (some in-person and some virtual) where we worked to model compassion, justice, inclusion and peace in a non-traditional forum.
At that final happy hour, one neighbor commented about the church’s involvement. “You cared when you didn’t have to.” If that isn’t what church is, I don’t know what is. It’s caring about the people around us when its easier to say “it’s someone else’s job”, or “I’m too busy” or “It doesn’t affect me.” I can’t think of a better way to describe Dayspring, both Tempe and Arcadia (and legacy Aldersgate) than caring. We continually seek to care when we don’t have to, even when it’s difficult. So, keep your eyes open for other unusual ways we can be the church in new ways in both Tempe and Arcadia that introduces us to new people and builds caring relationships!