Bishop Mathes would ask congregations a simple, but very powerful question, If your church were to close tomorrow, would your community notice? It’s a great question, but one that each of us might be inclined to pass off on the institution to solve. So, I like to bring it down to the individual level and reword the question just a little: If YOU were to stop being Christian tomorrow, would your neighbors notice? If that seems too farfetched to get your head around, how about, if you were to move out of your neighborhood, would you be missed? The point being, these questions are all asking us about what kind of impact are we having on those we live with. They have their root in the Gospel of John when he says that the Disciples of Jesus will be known for how they love. (John 13:35)
So how are we doing on that score? Are we loving our neighbors such a way that know there is something very different about us? Are we having a ‘kingdom’ impact in our communities that is so unexpected, so life giving, so exceptionally different than the rest of the world, that they might even ask us, “what’s behind all of this?”
Well, all of this is a kind of theological introduction to a spiritual practice that I want to invite the entire congregation to try out along with me this summer. It’s called ‘prayer walking’ and it’s a simple, yet potentially powerful way to not only practice your faith in your neighborhood, but also to stumble upon life changing experiences. Don’t worry, it’s not about going door to door inviting people to church. It’s about waking up to your neighborhood and seeing it with fresh eyes and, in the process, begin to imagine ourselves in a new way – as missionaries of God’s love in our very own neighborhoods.
Here’s how: Walk your neighborhood (or complex or building if an apartment or condos) at different times of the day during the week. Commit to doing it 3 to 4 times a week for the rest of the summer. If it’s too hot, go early and then do it at night. Like the 70 who were sent out in Luke 10, don’t go with a bunch of “baggage.” That means, don’t have any agenda to convert people or even necessarily to meet people you can invite to church. All you are doing is saying a prayer or two while walking. Pray at the beginning. Pray at the end. Ask for God’s blessing on your neighbors as you go, ask how your neighbors bless you, and how you might be a blessing to them. Don’t think about your to-do list. Don’t plan your day. Just be as present as you can. Notice the houses, the yards. Hear the birds and see the trees blowing in the wind.
Notice who you see. Look for signs of hope. Look for signs of change. Where do people gather? What neighbors do you see, what are they doing? As you walk, ask yourself “wondering” questions like, “I wonder if that person lives alone?” Make a mental map of your block or your floor on your building. Can you name everyone? Do you know a little about what is going on in their lives? Journal when you get home and make a note of anything that you saw that struck you or that you noticed for the very first time.
Remember, this is driven not by an agenda of new members for St. Bart’s, but by a posture of humility, openness, and prayer. As we prayer walk our neighborhoods, our desire to open ourselves so that we might catch a glimpse of how God is already at work in our neighborhoods and how the Spirit might be nudging us to join in. If you have questions or some experiences to share, I’d love to hear them! Email me at Happy walking!
~The Rev. Chris Harris