A prayerful reading of your neighborhood
A few years ago, a five-year-old boy in Boone, NC walked through the campus of Appalachian State with his mom. He looked up to his mother holding his hand and said, “Mom, what is college about anyways? Do you just walk around with a backpack on looking for a girlfriend?” You could not describe my freshman year of college any clearer. This child with one walk across campus understood what was happening beneath the surface.
Far too often churches start ministries and programs in their community without first taking the time to understand their neighborhood.
In 2018, I was a part of the Lewis Community Leadership Fellows, a cohort offered by The Lewis Center for Church Leadership. At one gathering, Rev. Dr. F. Douglas Powe Jr. invited us to read our community like a biblical text. In reading scripture, we take great care in understanding the context and meaning of the passage. Shouldn’t we use the same care in our community?
My mind immediately went to Lectio Divina, a four-step process of prayerfully reading scripture first used in the 6th century. I wondered if this process of divine reading could work in the neighborhood. I gave it a try and it did!
The following is the activity I call Lectio Vicinitas, or Neighborhood Reading, and it’s designed for church leaders who wish to listen deeply to their neighborhood. It can be used to discern God’s call for your church to relate to your community in a new way. It is designed to be done while walking through a neighborhood but I’ve also adapted it for riding through a rural community. For the walking version, I encourage church teams to practice this individually and then to compare experiences.
As you prepare to depart, quiet your inner voice. Invite the Holy Spirit to guide your steps and your observations. Seek a mindset of openness, leaving preconceived assumptions behind.
As you begin walking, take special notice of whatever and whom- ever you see. In this stage try to minimize interpreting what you see and maximize observation. You can make notes on paper or on your phone if it helps you to remember. Take note of plac- es where people are gathering. Look for written words on signs, posters, or magazines. Observe the housing in the community. If a property is for sale or rent, look up the cost. What stands out to you right away?
Find a quiet place to sit in the neighborhood. Reflect upon what you saw. Replay the walk in your imagination, stopping for moments that stood out to you. Ruminate on these moments. What stood out to you about them? Slowly shift your focus from the mind to the heart. What feelings were stirred in you? What was happening under the surface? Where did you feel God’s presence on your walk? Where could you see God already working?
Shift into a conversation with God about what you saw on your walk. You can do this in a journal if it helps. Ask God some questions. Ask God for clarity in areas that are unclear. Ask where you might partner with God’s redemptive work already happening in the community.
As you begin to close, jot down your newly discovered insights about your neighborhood. Write down anything you feel God was saying to you in this time. Rest in God’s presence for a few moments before returning to your daily tasks.
Our communities are full of beauty, wisdom, culture, and gifts. May the Holy Spirit be your guide as you seek new ways to join in what God is doing in the neighborhood.
You can find a free downloadable pdf version of Lectio Vicinitas at thelisteningchurch.com/resources.