A Party with Purpose

A few weeks ago my wife, Patty, and I hosted an unusual party. We had been leading a learning community about living Kingdom values in our neighborhoods here in Cincinnati. As the group came to a close, we wanted them to meet and learn from members of an actual caring community. And so we threw a party for them and invited . . . our neighbors!
Our learning community has been meeting all year to think and pray together about God’s dream for each of our places. We have discussed how we can be salt and light in our neighborhoods and communities. We have been learning how the places we live could become genuine caring communities where Kingdom values flavor our interactions with each other. Most important, we have sought to discern the role we might play in seeing God’s dream come to fruition in each of our places.
Patty and I thought it might cement some of the principles we’d been discussing for our group to see some of these principles in action. So Saturday evening after a day of meetings we brought them together with 12 of our neighbors. I introduced our neighbors to the group. One of my neighbors even shared a heart-wrenching story of how important our community of neighbors had been to him during a difficult divorce. Two from our group gave a brief summary of what we had covered throughout the year. Then I turned everyone loose to interact with each other.
I must admit that I was a bit apprehensive about how this would work. Who wants to go to a party where you don’t know most of the people? But my neighbors were real superstars. They responded with graciousness and thoughtfulness to questions from our group like, “What makes your neighborhood so great?” and “How did it get that way?” Even when small groups of neighbors congregated together we noticed the conversations focused on practices of neighboring and specific examples of those practices.
Our learning community had been thinking, reading, writing about and discussing how to contribute to the flourishing of our places. But on this evening my neighbors were the experts on what it meant to be a caring community. They became the authorities on adding value to their place.
It was an amazing evening for all of us. Folks stayed well past our end time, and our neighbors were the last to leave.
I’ve had nothing but positive feedback from my neighbors about the event. I’ve heard comments like, “That was such a great group of people,” and, “It was a fun evening.” They felt they had something to offer our learning community. And they did. We have found stories to be powerful teachers as we attempt to engage more meaningfully in our place. Even stories of discouragement and disappointment can encourage us to continue to take little initiatives toward people. That evening the stories flowed freely and had a tremendous impact on our group.
So the journey continues as we help folks wonder about what God could do if they were fully engaged in the place where God has planted them. Thanks to our wonderful neighbors, our learning community got a taste of that—along with some delicious hors d’oeuvres!

Andy Hunt is Navigators Neighbors staff in Cincinnati, Ohio.