When talking with various people about our church, our conviction regarding being a “parish” church is often the greatest stumbling block for folks. Especially here in the land of car and commute, making claims on where one lives and how that relates to where one worships can seem offensive to many.

This past week I repeatedly saw a man lingering on and around my neighbor’s property across the street. At different times in past weeks I have seen the same man on the porch trying the door handles of the four apartment entrances; another time he was crouched behind a pillar on the same porch looking through papers; still another time, he was down the driveway checking out the latch on the fence that protects the cars and toys kept in the back and looking around. I have called dispatch twice. Both times, he wasn’t doing enough to warrant a patrol car being sent out. Two apartments in this building are occupied by members of our church; the other two by good friends.

The other night I had fed my kids and we were beginning our evening clean-up in the living room when I caught a glimpse of him again. This time he was on the non-driveway side of the building looking up into the living room window of one of the first floor apartments where two single women in our church live. I grabbed my phone immediately and dialed 911. I probably would have just called dispatch but I could not find my cell phone and that is where I have that number stored. The 911 operator said that they would send someone over immediately after I described what I was seeing, as well as the pattern of this man’s behavior on the property. It was a few minutes before six o’clock, and I knew that our dear friend who lives in that apartment would be coming home from work (on foot) any minute. I also knew that her roommate had just left for a trip to Hawaii and that our friend would be coming home to an empty apartment.

I could not call my friend who at that moment could have been on her way home to what may have been a dangerous situation. She is from Texas and has kept her cell phone number from home and because I did not have my cell (and since we don’t have long distance on our land line), I knew I would be unable to reach her. So I called Doug at work and told him to call her immediately. After hanging up with him, I called my sister who lives a few blocks away and asked her to give me the phone number for the tutoring center where our friend works. I got the number, called, but no one answered, so I was left hoping that Doug had reached her.

This friend does not have a car, so I called my sister back and asked her to call our other friend who lives across the street to see if he could drive down to the tutoring center and pick her up so that she would not have to walk home (she does not have a car). Again, his number is a long distance call and I both did not have the number (in the missing cell with the rest) nor the capacity to call it. So, while still wondering if Doug had reached Lauren or if Anna had managed to get a hold of Elliot, I saw my sister’s husband arrive across the street. He had Lauren in his car and was dropping her off. Elliot was on the front porch waiting for her. By this time the police had already arrived and were driving around looking for the guy who had since left the property.

Later that night I was struck by how crucial our physical proximity to one another is (I was also struck by how utterly dependent I am upon my cell phone), and what an incredible difference it makes to me to have neighbors and friends who are a phone call, a house, or a block away. I think I forget how remarkable it is to have a life where the members of your faith community all live on the handful of streets that surround you. It really is an amazing way to approach a corporate life and witness together.

Oh, and the police did catch up with the guy. He gave them some story about how he had had a fight with his girlfriend and was there at the apartment looking for his friend. Right. The story makes no sense, and I had to laugh a bit when I heard this as it is honestly the “dog ate my homework” answer guys give on the street. I can think of two or three times at our block club meetings where our Senior Lead Officer has followed up on some criminal behavior we have reported only to come back to our meeting with the explanation that “the guy had a fight with his girlfriend and blah blah blah…” Apparently it is an answer that the cops willingly accept.


  1. Thanks for this reflection on your experience living out a parish-model ministry. This is a story that I can point to when I come across people who maintain that you can build a “commuter community”…

  2. Hey Matt!

    Nice to hear from you. I think it can be so easy to just take for granted the way commuter life is. I am glad this offers a helpful view of the alternative.

  3. I want to echo the thanks for this post. I miss the days I lived in midtown Sacramento and could walk to my friends’ houses and apartments. I lived there in 2002 when the Kings and Lakers battled it out in the playoffs. I loved the fact that I could walk down the street and hear from a woman in a business suit and a drunken homeless man, “Go Kings!” on the same block.

    Out of curiosity, how do you all define the boundaries of your parish?

  4. Tyler,

    Our boundaries are the 10 freeway to the North; Arlington to the West; MLK to the South; and Vermont to the East. If someone wishes to become a voting member of our church, he or she must reside within these boundaries. We do have some folks who participate in our ministry, worship and life together who do not live inside this boundary, and we call them “participating members’ vs. “voting members”.

    It’s been a bit challenging of late as we have had folks genuinely drawn to our community, who give themselves to the ministry, who actually cannot afford to live here now that rents have gotten so out of control, so for them to “relocate” so to speak is impossible.

    In fact, someone challenged the justice of the boundary requirement on these grounds: basically if you were wealthy enough, you could move into our community (ironically enough), they argued, but if you were poor and wanted to move in you would be excluded. If Doug and I had to move into this neighborhood now, we would not be able to afford it, so I can relate to what they are saying.

    Always complex…

  5. Wow. No kidding it’s complex. I greatly applaud your active work towards recapturing a physical sense of neighbor and working against the commuter culture. Your point that your neighborhood is too expensive for folks now does raise really difficult justice questions.

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