by Al Santino
In New York City, summer is a time when our communities are bustling with activity. People are doing their thing out in the streets, parks, and playgrounds. And this is a great opportunity for churches to be good neighbors by participating in the life of their neighborhoods.
The Lord calls us to seek the peace (shalom) of our city as we demonstrate his love and care for “all things” in our communities. As we work alongside neighbors, associations, and institutions, we will witness shalom coming upon the fabric of our community as individuals, schools, playgrounds, businesses, housing, and the environment are renewed and the gospel is both seen and heard.
Here are some ways for churches to seek shalom in their communities this summer:
- Do community prayer walks through all sections of your neighborhood and invite community members to join you.
- Participate in the life of your community—get into the flow of attending parks and recreation areas, block parties, and cultural events.
- Participate in forums and events addressing community issues, such as the Community Board, town halls, advocacy organizations, and Police Community Affairs.
- Mobilize volunteers in short-term or ongoing opportunities with community organizations working for the common good, such as summer youth programs and community gardens.
- Mobilize your church for an initiative that meets a critical need in your community. Don’t guess! Meet with neighbors, organizations, and institutions to discern needs. Connect, listen, learn, and serve!
- If you’re bringing in an outside mission group, utilize them to support—not spearhead—your community engagement. Do not develop an initiative utilizing a mission team as the main source of capacity. For example, do not do a neighborhood clean-up unless you have church and community members owning it.
My church in Washington Heights has been working for the common good alongside our neighbors, addressing the beautification, health, and safety concerns around what has essentially been a dumping ground for the past 20 years.
This effort began with one of our members who has been a “person of peace” in her neighborhood. Like a good neighbor, she has advocated for her fellow tenants to be able to live in a safe and clean neighborhood. We supported her in our efforts to bring neighbors, associations, and public officials together to address the concerns around this lot. Now, after two-and-a-half years, a team of church and community members are working together to beautify the area and the city agencies are stepping up to deal with the health and safety issues. The gospel is being seen and heard because church and community members are developing genuine relationships of care and concern.
I encourage your congregations to pray and strategize about intentional community engagement this summer. Let us celebrate our communities and enjoy the company of our neighbors. Let us also be active in serving those in need, working for justice and the common good; and be agents of God’s shalom.
“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city….pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you to will prosper.”
— Jeremiah 29:7
About the Author
Al Santino was born and raised in New York City and has served in community development ministries since 1986.
Along with his role as Project Manager of Community Engagement at City to City, Al also serves at Viva Uptown Inc., a recently organized church-based collaborative.