Thursday, September 18, 2008

Mending Fences

When I arrived here at the country church that considers itself to have the ability to make friends (our motto is similar to that convoluted sentence and I don't want it to show up on a google search) it soon became apparant that the congregation was indeed friendly... IF you walked through its doors. They were not considered to be so friendly by our immediate neighbors. It seems that some of our heavy weights had pushed the neighbors around in order to get what the church needed - extra land.

The first time I became directly involved in the sins of the past was my first winter here when our snowplower pushed a pile of snow against the neighbors fence, breaking it. I noticed it when I came outside, saw the mid-twenties son of the neighbors outside and called out to him that it looked like we owed him some new fence. He agreed and he was cordial but I could tell there was an underlying tone of something... I just couldn't quite put my finger on it.

I then went inside, hit play on the answering machine and on it was a message from his mother crying into the phone that enough was enough and that the church needed to fix the fence immediately and they were tired of the way we did things around here, etc....

Now at that point I was a novice and I was naive but even I knew that it was not just about that day's snowplow incident. It turned out that a deal had been made between them and a few of the leaders of the church that in exchange for a small slice of land that would enable the church to build an entryway out to the main road, the church was supposed to give them ten pine trees. The family is a tad on the reclusive side and they wanted the church to help them block their property and home from view of the new driveway. The church never gave them the trees.

Of course, it wasn't the church it was the pastor who had retired and two of the big Mucky Mucks, both of whom have since left.

After meeting with them we had the trees delivered the very next day and gave them the wood and fencing they needed to fix their fence (they wanted to do it themselves). We even changed to someone that plows using larger equipment so that they are no longer pushing snow into the fence.

I have seen them a few times walking their dogs along the yard and we have always been friendly, but who knew what they really thought. A few weeks ago I ran into that neighbor at the store and he introduced me to the grocery clerk who he obviously knew as his "good neighbor". That was cool.

Our neighbors all around us have been similarly pushed around throughout this church's history and some of the relationships have been impossible to fix. Stuff like that takes time and they all know that I might be okay, and the leadership NOW might be okay, but who knows what to trust in the future.

That is where my own little ambassador of good will (no pun intended, but it works) comes in. You may be able to resist my charms, but you canNOT resist the dimpled charms of a 3 and a half year old asking you to race him in the parking lot.


cheesehead said...

I love that boy of yours.

We have an eerily similar relationship with our next door neighbors out here at old St Stoic.

Eerily. Substitute parking lot for road entrance, and put in some signs instead of trees and there you have it.

But man, oh man, we have the ability to make friends.

Drew said...

"it soon became apparant that the congregation was indeed friendly... IF you walked through its doors."

That seems to be such a pattern among churches in general though. About 50% in the PCUSA are under the 150 member park and small churches tend to be steep in traditions that are comfortable to people. Even traditions that intentionally exclude people from what should be an otherwise inclusive mission.

Teri said...

I wonder if every church has a history of making neighbors into enemies? We've got at least 3, maybe more, who have been angry at us for longer than anyone here's been alive. We managed to make up with one but not the other two...and no one even knows what happened! We keep putting out our little intrepid hands of welcome and ending up slapped....sigh. Can we borrow The Boy? I think that would help.

Stushie said...

Excellent healing work. Well done!

Songbird said...


Reformed Catholic said...

Our problem is that my church is too gracious to the neighbors. We allow them to park their cars in the parking lot during the week, when the lot is somewhat unused, as long as they would move the cars for Sunday services.

Trouble started when one of the neighbors who owns a HVAC business, started parking his trucks there, and leaving them over the weekend.

Started as 1, then 2 finally 4, and about that time, some Session member had to park on the street, and enough was enough.

Identity Mixed said...


Are those the neighbors that were playing Def Leppard when I was there?

ElastiGirl said...

will: the evangelist - out making friends in the 'hood!!

Mary Beth said...

I love this story. I adore that boy.

And a little child shall lead them!

Questing Parson said...

How hard it is for churches to realize that going into all the world means passing through the neighborhood.