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Ward Family builds neighborhood community with food and fellowship
By Kelly Skarritt-Williams
This summer, Ward Church is learning about how to engage and befriend the people God has placed in our path. But turning neighbors into friends feels like it’s becoming a lost art. In our busy, hectic lives, the last thing many of us want to do is try and cultivate any kind of relationship with those living on the other side of our privacy fences. And yet, that’s exactly what Ward Members Mike and Jen List set out to do, the minute they moved on to Harrison Street in Livonia in 2014. It may seem like that kind of neighborhood community now only lives in situational sitcoms and in the memories of an older generation. But the Lists are proving that all it takes for authentic community to exist between neighbors is good food, warm hospitality, and a willingness to invite some intimacy and vulnerability into your lives.
It all started with apples. The Lists’ home is situated on a full acre of land, and with that came a half a dozen or more of apple trees. The apple harvest was proving to be plentiful in 2015, so Jen and Mike had an idea. What if they invited the neighbors over to help bring in the harvest, and also invite them to stick around and enjoy some of the fruits of their labors (pun intended)? But it wasn’t an entirely mercenary scheme. Jen had grown up in a close-knit neighborhood, where everyone knew everyone and life easily flowed between homes. She wanted that again, especially for her two young daughters.
“Neighbors were a big part of my life. We did everything with them. So when we moved here in Livonia, for me it was important to meet our neighbors,” said Jen. Even before they had officially moved into their home, they came trick-or-treating in the neighborhood, in hopes of meeting new people and establishing relationships.
So, the harvest party was a natural next step for them in meeting more people. They printed up some flyers and went door to door, inviting anyone and everyone within relative ear shot to their inaugural List Family Harvest Party.
“I like the quote, ‘If you’ve been blessed, build a bigger table, not a higher fence,” said Mike. “We thought it would be cool to have this Harvest Party. And, we really did have a lot of apples.”
That first year, the turnout was modest, but the Lists started building strong friendships with those who came, especially a couple young families who lived nearby. Year after year, the harvest party grew. More families came and a chili cook-off was added, as well as donut-taste-testing as people would bring fresh donuts from a range of cider mills around the state. And the Harrison Street community grew with it.
“This is your community, whether you like it or not,” said Jen. “Regardless, you are sharing life with your neighbors, so you might as well make the most of it.”
The Lists have hosted people from across the cultural spectrum. Musician friends, neighbor friends, work friends, church friends…people who normally would not hang out have met at the List Family Harvest Party. “Then you find out that random people know each other, or know someone who knows someone else, and it shows just how small the world really is,” said Jen.
This is about where me and my family come in. We moved onto Harrison Street also in 2014. But, we lived a little bit further down the road from the Lists, so didn’t meet them or learn about the annual harvest party until another life event threw us in their path. We met them at the corner bus stop when both our son and the Lists’ daughter were in kindergarten together. It’s amazing the conversations you have when you are waiting 15 minutes for the bus to show up. Soon, the Lists invited us to one of their “neighbor dinners” that they host throughout the year for young families living in and around Harrison Street.
To say knowing them, and the other people we’ve met on our street, has been a blessing – would be an understatement. I had not grown up knowing my neighbors in any intimate way, but I had always longed for that. In fact, I had been praying for nearly three years to meet some families in the neighborhood, with whom we could do life together.
For those of us in this neighbor friend group, we’ve seen the potential for spiritual conversations to emerge, even when not all the friends are Christians. Having a trusted relationship has opened doors to conversations and questions.
“Inviting people over was never about a mission or a project, but just a way to make friends,” said Mike. “However, conversations naturally come out of that because you are already a community.” The community has grown to neighborhood text chains and sharing of resources. Tools, equipment, food, you name it, we share it. In addition to being a gardener, tree farmer and musician, Mike is also a beekeeper, barista and a baker. Every once and a while we find baskets of bread and honey dropped on our doorstep. My daughter has dubbed him the “bread fairy.” In addition to summertime neighbor dinners, we plan holiday parties, birthday parties, camping trips, and bon fires. When my daughter was in the hospital for a few days in the fall of 2019, we came home to the neighborhood guys raking up all the leaves in our yard.
“I feel like our neighborhood community has become one of the strongest communities we are a part of,” said Jen.
This small community of friends and neighbors on Harrison Street exists today, thanks to a family who didn’t wait for people to reach out to them. They reached out to others, opened their home, and allowed those seeds to produce a harvest of friendship.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row type=”in_container” scene_position=”center” text_color=”dark” text_align=”left” overlay_strength=”0.3″][vc_column column_padding=”no-extra-padding” column_padding_position=”all” background_color_opacity=”1″ background_hover_color_opacity=”1″ width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]
More Ideas for Reaching YOUR Neighborhood
Want to start building a community in your neighborhood, but aren’t sure where to start? Do what comes naturally to you! Here are some ideas to start with, and then just start reaching out. You never know who you might meet or what friendships might emerge!
- Make cookies and drop off one door steps with a note
- Hang out in your front yard
- Hand out free lemonade to people walking by
- Plan a neighborhood bon fire
- Do a Rake and Run or help with yard work or snow removal (e.g. clean the sidewalks after a big snow)
- Build a little free library or use that space as a small food pantry
- Plan a neighborhood pot luck and cook out
- Walk your neighborhood and stop and chat with people you pass (just be open to conversations that might happen spontaneously)
- Be a curious person and genuinely interested in the people and things you might see around your neighborhood
- Take it upon yourself to keep your neighborhood clean, such as picking up any litter you find
- Be present and pay attention to the needs of your neighborhood – is there a neighbor who seems like they might need a hand with something? Offer your help, but not in a pushy way.
Share on our socials what you’re doing in your neighborhood! #wardchurchneighbors
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