Art: Vivienne Flesher. Copyright: Whitney Johnson
This is part four of a four-part series on Know Your Neighbor – a community outreach initiative meant to be a starting point for how we reach out to those outside of our Church boundaries, whether around the world or across the street. Click here to read Part 3.
“Of all [the] people on this earth, we should be . . . the kindest, and the most tolerant because of our doctrine [of inclusion], loving and serving one another despite our deepest differences – including religious, political and cultural differences.”
-Elder Ballard, General Conference, October 2001
When I was called to serve as the Public Affairs Representative for the Northborough Ward, Boston Stake in 2001, I had no idea what I was supposed to do. Bishop Arbon’s words to me were, “The opportunities in Public Affairs are like drinking water from a fire hydrant.” There was a manual that offered some direction, but basically I had to find my own way to create a climate in which the Church is known for good.
As I studied and pondered the possibilities of how to be most effective in this new calling, I realized that the Public Affairs Committee could pursue a low-touch approach – seeking positive press from the local news media by sending press releases about Church events and hoping their coverage would portray the Church in a good light. Or we could pursue a high-touch approach – actively cultivating one-on-one relationships within our communities.
As I pondered the two approaches, the inspiration for Know Your Neighbor came. While I knew that cultivating one-on-one relationships would be far more effective in promoting a positive image of the Church and its members, I also knew from my own experience that the high-touch approach is far more difficult than simply seeking positive press. Each of us has a litany of reasons for not reaching out to our neighbors: we are too busy, too self-sufficient, too transient, and too scared! We are afraid of exposing ourselves to outside influences, and we are especially afraid of rejection.
I began to wonder if it were possible to make the act of reaching out to those with whom we share common ground less threatening. I was convinced that there must be something we could do that that would allow members of the Church in our area to gently nudge themselves into reaching out. As a result, Know Your Neighbor was created. The actions required to Know Your Neighbor are straightforward. They are: Over the next six weeks, invite into your home family or individual with whom you have something in common apart from religion.
In a 2000 BYU Devotional, President Hinckley said: “The true gospel of Jesus Christ never led to bigotry. It never led to self-righteousness. It never led to arrogance. The true gospel of Jesus Christ leads to brotherhood, to friendship, to appreciation of others, to respect and kindness and love.”
Brotherhood. Friendship. Good cheer. Hospitality. Kindness. Love. Can you use these words to describe your neighborhood, your community?
If not, why not take the Know Your Neighbor challenge?
Reaching Beyond Your Comfort Zone
As a family, we decided to begin Know Your Neighbor by getting to know the members of our own ward better. We invited families from our ward that we didn’t know well into our home for a shared Family Home Evening, or for dinner or just dessert. We became comfortable with the idea of hosting someone who we didn’t know well, and stronger friendships have blossomed out of these experiences. You can also institute this idea on a ward-wide basis, by inviting members who want to participate to put their names in a hat, and then randomly pairing up families.
After practicing our reaching-out skills in the comfort zone of our own ward, we started inviting people over from other parts of our lives. In our old neighborhood, there was a devout Catholic family that we became friendly with. Our kids enjoyed playing together ; the mom and I enjoyed walking and talking together, swapping stories about balancing work and family. We invited this family over for dinner and for Christmas parties, and they in turn had us over on many occasions. In fact, we became friendly enough that their youngest son attended the nearby Montessori school with our kids for a year, with my husband dropping all three children off at school each day.
We have also had some great experiences reaching out to the families at our kids’ school, [https://meridianmag.wpengine.com/ideas/070426neighbor.html] as well as to some of my former colleagues of whom I had grown quite fond. Even after we no longer worked together, I have made a concerted effort to nurture those relationships, attending weddings, getting together on occasion, and sending Christmas cards to them each year.
Once you have individually participated in Know Your Neighbor, why not invite the members of your ward to be inclusive?
A Know-Your-Neighbor Kickoff
In my ward, under the direction of our bishop, we instituted a Know Your Neighbor kick-off. Possible topics for such a meeting could include the theme of “Love thy neighbor as thyself” or a talk drawn from Elder Ballard’s April 2006 talk “Creating A Gospel Sharing Home.“
You could follow up with Primary Sharing time activities designed to get children thinking about who their neighbors are, and Relief Society and Priesthood lessons where members are asked to commit to participating in Know Your Neighbor . After the designated six weeks are past, there could be another Sacrament Meeting during which four or five ward members are asked to share their experiences in getting to know their neighbors. [https://www.knowyourneighbornet.com/helps/index.php]
The results of reaching out beyond religious boundaries are stunning. Just ask Christine Balderas, a member of the Church in Salt Lake City. She lives on what she calls a “religiously tolerant street” where all her neighbors feel included, respected and appreciated for their differences. When her Catholic neighbor’s son had his first communion, almost everyone on the block attended the mass, including the LDS bishop who also lived on the street. Likewise, those of other faiths support LDS social events, Primary programs, missionary farewells, including serving brilliantly as Cub Scout leaders in the local Ward’s program. Everyone on the block is invited to neighborhood ice cream socials, children’s plays, caroling parties and Christmas service projects. They take care of each other’s needs – bringing in dinners for a family when the mother was in the hospital, helping get the roof on a neighbor’s home before a major storm, and providing emotional and other support for a family that suddenly lost their husband and father. Balderas concludes, “This is a neighborhood where people refuse to move out, because it’s more than just a street – it’s home.”
After we begin reaching out to our neighbors, we can start thinking about Know Your Neighbor on an institutional basis. How can we help our ward, our stake, the Church as a whole become more a part of the community?
A member of the Stake Young Women’s presidency in the Boston Stake, Dina Chatwin was charged with finding an opportunity for the youth of the stake to serve the community. Wanting the youth to both serve and engage with the community-at-large, Dina reached out to City Year, a member of AmeriCorps. [https://www.cityyear.org/].
On a sunny day in May, 120 youth from the Boston, MA stake and 20 leaders participated in Serve-a-thon: Hundred Hours of Power, alongside other faith-based groups, community groups and local corporations. They cleaned up playgrounds, painted murals for a baseball field, cleaned an outdoor church, built park benches, and organized all the books in the a local elementary school library. Julie Keenan, the Stake Young Women’s president, said about the project: “The kids couldn’t stop saying, ‘I wish I could be here on Monday morning to see the children’s faces. When can we do this again?’ What a perfect event.” As an institution, our church is perfectly poised to participate in one-off barn raising activities, with a ready pool of labor that can be deployed to help organizations such as CityYear achieve their goals.
What local community events could your ward or stake become involved in?
One important way for us to stay connected to our communities and seek opportunities to Know Your Neighbo r is to read the newspaper. Kara Hess, in charge of community relations for St. Louis Missouri Stake Public Affairs, is on the advisory board of the Grace Baptist Church’s “Teach Them to Fish” program, designed to teach self-sufficiency to inner-city youth and families.
How did Kara learn about the organization? My co-blogger, Dana King, read about it in the newspaper, and forwarded the article to her.
President Hinckley reads five newspapers a day. No wonder he is so comfortable relating to people of all ages, races and cultures. Dana rarely has more than five minutes a day to read the newspaper, but she does make it a habit to at least skim the headlines and then quickly read any articles that are of particular interest or importance. If you want to feel immediately more connected to your community, scan your local paper for a few minutes every day.
As part of the Know Your Neighbor initiative, my husband and I produced and distributed the poster above to families in our stake. The woman pictured in the painting is delivering a present to her neighbor. She could be any one of us – she is undefined as to race, religion, or age. She is entering through the back door of her neighbor’s house, implying a real familiarity with her neighbor. She knows this home and the people who live in it. She is bringing a pineapple, which is a symbol of hospitality.
The first European to encounter a pineapple was Christopher Columbus, who tasted the fruit on a voyage to the Caribbean in 1493. Into the 1600s, pineapples were considered a rare delicacy – King Charles II of England even posed with one for a royal portrait.
In Colonial America, the pineapple was an exotic and expensive treat. And the woman who served her guests pineapple was revered as a great hostess who spared no expense for their dining pleasure. The pineapple came to symbolize a sense of welcome, good cheer and warm hospitality, and it has become the symbol of Know Your Neighbor .
So, how about it?
Ready to take the Know Your Neighbor challenge?
Or maybe you already have.
Either way, why not nominate someone for The Pineapple Award, a prize for neighborliness on the part of individuals, wards, or even stakes. The winner of the Pineapple Award will be announced on October 21st and will receive a copy of the Know Your Neighbor poster and a fresh pineapple. (Nominations accepted here: www.knowyourneighbor.typepad.com )