Fall of 2012 my husband and I moved into Toledo, Ohio. We bought an 1899 Edwardian home in the Birmingham neighborhood. Demographically the neighborhood is filled with renters, many of them working for minimum wage or on welfare. There are a lot of single mothers and a lot of kids. Many of my neighbors don’t have the Internet; instead going to the library on Monday or Tuesday evenings to check their e-mail there. It’s a very different community from the suburban neighborhood we had previously lived in.
Buying a house, moving, and getting settled took away all my blogging time this year, but it has allowed me a lot of time to reflect on what it means to live out the Christian values early Free Methodists such as B.T. and Ellen Roberts, Mariet Hardy Freeman and Emma Ray. I’ve come to believe we have largely lost focus in the denomination and in evangelical culture at large. No longer is service crucial to our faith; it has become all out us and our needs.
We focus on ourselves and our own comfort. We choose to live in the suburbs in home that look like every other home on our block, enroll our children in numerous extra curricular activities, and focus on our family’s needs over those of the community. I can’t tell you how many parents at church I have heard worry about protecting their children from the world more than equipping them for ministry.
In high school I had a pastor challenged young Free Methodist at IYC (the youth conference of the denomination) to not settle for middle class mediocrity. As he said we have two choices- aim for the house, the new car and suburban life or live radically for Christ. Ever since high school I’ve known I didn’t want the suburban life. People at our church questioned our decision to move into the city. Yet, we knew it was what we were supposed to do.
I’ve heard comments repeatedly over the past eight months—“Are you safe in your neighborhood?” “What about gangs and break-ins?” “Why would you want to live in East Toledo; it has a reputation.”
I just smile and say we live in a great neighborhood. We have so much more than our neighbors; yet still so much less than many people in the suburbs. Our home was cost less than half what a home in the Toledo suburbs costs and it’s bigger. We don’t need to spend a fortune on a home. The money can be better spent elsewhere.
I now have a chance to interact with my neighbors and learn about their needs first hand. People are friendly and sit on their front porches in the evening. It’s a throwback to 1950s culture where neighbors look out for each other and say hi as they pass you on the street. I didn’t get that in the suburbs. Everyone was so busy going a million directions and caught up in their own lives that the community wasn’t important.
I want to live like B.T. and Ellen Roberts who continually opened their home to those in need. I want to live like Emma Ray and L.P. Ray who lived in inner city Seattle for years working with the working poor and to have the faith of Mariet Hardy Freeman was never afraid to live where needed.
Christianity and church isn’t about us. It isn’t about making sure our needs are met. It’s about training us to live missionaly. If we are too comfortable we forget our call to serve, love, and show charity. Like the founding Free Methodists, our lives should exude Christ in our actions and in how we communicate with those around us.
Not everyone will want to move into the city; but for me living in the city has made me re-evaluate everything about middle class evangelical culture. I might not have time to do much research now, but I plan to share some reflections on what it means to live out the mission of the early Free Methodists in 21st century America.
I think we have lost our way and only radical steps of faith will bring us back. Think of where our churches are located- largely in the suburbs or rural areas. Think about where most of us live and who we have as friends and neighbors. The diverse group of people the early Free Methodists associated with and think about who we chose to associate it- people just like us. We have chosen security and comfort above everything else.