Landscaping and Gospel, Community, and Mission

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  • June 08, 2011

A few weeks ago, as I was walking out of our church building, a car pulled into the driveway and parked right in front of our door. An older gentleman stepped out. I greeted him and he began to introduce himself. He lives directly behind the church property. In fact, just beyond the parking lot, we share a fence with this neighbor. In a patient voice, he expressed his frustration that there were trees and shrubs that were growing from our property onto his. Till then I hadn’t even noticed the small jungle that was growing towards the edge of our property. He did. In fact, our little unkempt forest was producing a maze of vines in his yard. He kindly asked that we take care of it and cut it down.

I apologized for the inconvenience and told him that we would get to it the first moment we were able to. I asked him to be patient with us, but assured him that we would take care of it. I also expressed our desire to be good neighbors to him. We talked some about the neighborhood. He had been living in that same home for almost four decades. After our conversation, he shook my hand, thanked me for hearing him out, got back in his car and drove off. To be honest, I don’t know that he, or any of the neighbors bordering the church had a great opinion of the church. St. Mark’s will be the first to admit that they didn’t excel at building relationships with people outside of the church, including those living right next door. It was obvious that there was some work to do in repairing relationships with our neighbors.

We figured honoring this request was as good a place as any to start. After all Jesus had plenty to say about loving your neighbors.  So the first possible Saturday, we organized a work day to take care of the landscaping issue. We bought a chain-saw, a hedge-trimmer, some tree clippers, and got to work. Needless to say, six guys with a chain-saw and other motorized sharp objects makes for a semi-deadly but fun-filled afternoon. We cleared our little rainforest.

Inspired by our neighbor’s visit, I decided that it was high-time we visit the homes that are directly connected to our property. Now we’ve done this before in small measure, but this was long over due. I drafted a letter, enclosed a $5 gift-card to Starbucks, and yesterday, Jeremy and I walked the block visiting our neighbors. There’s a bunch I could write about, but let me end with two things from our expedition.

One, when we got to the home of the neighbor who had stopped by, he greeted us at the door with a huge smile and ambushed us with gratitude. He thanked me profusely for responding to his request. He called what we did ‘beautiful’ more than once. I thanked him for coming over, and told him he was the inspiration for our walk around the block. Jeremy stood there laughing as we tried to outdo one another in ‘thank you’s.’

Two, as I mentioned, this neighbor’s visit lit a fire in us to meet the neighbors and seek to build a relationship with them. Simple, right? How could I overlook it? But I did. Jeremy and I stopped at about 15 homes. Some people talked to us for no less than 30 minutes. Though a small step, I think it went a long way in helping clear up misconceptions about who were were and what our intentions were.

Below is the letter we gave our neighbors. Please pray that God would help us to represent Him well to our city, particularly to those who live right next door.

Dear Neighbor,

One of the things that Jesus often talked about was being a good neighbor. When asked what was the greatest commandment, He replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Essentially, Jesus taught that loving God meant loving people as well. Sadly, religious people can get this wrong all the time. We claim to love God but often fail to love those whom God loves. Jesus corrects us and insists that those who have received love from God should be the first to extend that same love to others – particularly to neighbors.

As followers of Jesus, though we are far from perfect, we earnestly desire to be good neighbors to you.

We are a new church called Seven Mile Road and we have recently come to own the property near you. St. Mark’s Church graciously passed along their property to us before closing so that we could start a new church in the area. We exist to love God and to make Him known by being a blessing to our city and neighborhood; and that certainly includes those closest to us – you.

If there is anything that we can do to be better neighbors, or anyway that we can help or serve you, please do not hesitate to ask. We have services every Sunday morning at 10am and would be honored to have you with us. Stop by any week as we look forward to meeting you and getting to know you better.

Sincerely,

Pastor Ajay Thomas & Seven Mile Road Church

P.S. Enclosed is a small gift for you. Enjoy!

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About Ajay Thomas

Ajay lives in Philadelphia with his wife Shainu and their kids Hannah and Micah. He is responsible for preaching and vision as a pastor at Seven Mile Road. He loves God, family, food, and football - in that order.

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