The Neighborhood Church
Why I now worship much closer to home
I was born into a neighborhood church — one of the first children at a church plant that initially met in a local school before building its own structure on the edge of a fast-growing suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota. That sense of being part of its surroundings was so important to my parents and the other founders that they called their congregation Community Covenant Church.
But even before I started preschool, we moved to another suburb. We kept attending the same church, but it now required a 15-minute commute. I had friends at church, but they were different from my friends at school and in our neighborhood. Before too long, my parents helped plant another Covenant church, in yet another suburb south rather than east of ours.
And so most of my life as a Christian has gone. I certainly don’t regret spending most of my life in the Evangelical Covenant Church. But because congregations are relatively few and far between in such a small denomination, going to church has almost always involved me getting in a car and heading somewhere somewhat distant from where I live.
Apart from those first few, unremembered years, there have been only two exceptions to that rule. First, college and graduate school: even if there had been a Covenant option at hand, I didn’t have a car, and so had to choose less familiar churches within walking or biking distance. I probably didn’t appreciate those experiences enough at the time, but have been thinking about them because of the second exception: our current church, a Lutheran congregation that meets a block down the street from our house.
Many churches of this type are struggling, as national demographic trends play out at the local level and even regular attenders opt not to return from their COVID-imposed absences. But whether in the model I’ve come to know it or in some reimagined form, I hope the idea of a congregation gathering from a relatively short distance continues.
As Eugene Peterson, who pastored a small Presbyterian church in a Baltimore suburb, wrote in The Jesus Way:
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