by Sharon Williams
A pretty marvelous thing happens around this time of the year: It snows, and cabin fever-weary neighbors find each other on the sidewalks and streets, shovels in hand. They talk together and share a common battle with the elements. They laugh, and play with the kids and the dogs in the snow. But then the snow goes away (yes, it always does) and everyone gets back to their isolated, hustle-bustle routines.
After about a year of living in a new neighborhood, Jenifer Eriksen Morales, Franconia Conference LEADership minister and minister of transitional ministries, realized that she really didn’t know her neighbors. She tried prayer walking. Occasionally she would deliberately stop and talk with people. Then she decided to invite some of the women with young children for coffee once a week. It was quickly dubbed “coffee and chaos.”
Always curious about how other people experience God, Jenifer began to gently ask questions. She discovered that most of her neighbors were unchurched. She began to watch for kairos moments—when God’s time meets our time and the Holy Spirit moves. “So, where do you see God in the chaos of your life?” she asked. Now when coffee and chaos meets, women often start conversations with, “I had a Kairos moment!”
People continued to come to for coffee and chaos. They started a book club, using mostly secular titles, but always sharing requests and simple prayers together. Souderton Mennonite Church provided child care so the meetings were not quite so, well, chaotic.
As people learned to know each other, they began to host gatherings for the whole neighborhood. They celebrate Tres Reyes (Three Kings Day) on January 6 with rosca, a special sweet bread cake that has a baby Jesus hidden in it. Other events include a salad party and a summer solstice ice cream party. Each event has a faith aspect built into it.
One of Jenifer’s favorite celebrations is the back-to-school barbeque. Every household in the neighborhood, whether they have school-age children or not, is invited to eat and play yard games. During the meal, the adults write blessings for the children and youth, and post them on the garage door. At the end of the meal, the blessings are read, and they pray together. “We want the children to understand that we love all of them, Jesus is with them, and that they can come to us anytime,” Jenifer explains.
More recently, a small group, who named itself Kairos Community, has begun meeting for worship twice a month in Jenifer’s home on Sunday evenings. They tell a story from the Bible in a way that adults and children can understand. They talk about how this scripture is meaningful/relevant to their lives, share prayer requests, pray together, and enjoy a simple soup meal.
“It’s exciting to journey with people at various stages in their journeys with Jesus,” says Jenifer. “I’m inspired by what I learn from them. People who wouldn’t be friends under normal circumstances are learning to care for each other.”
As one neighbor told a friend, “Things have changed around here for the better.”
Leadership is emerging from among the neighbors. Some of the women have worked with Jenifer to co-lead presentations for churches that are interested in starting similar ministries in their neighborhoods. One of the men has a vision for a soccer ministry with children. Their experience has been featured on Fresh Expressions, a ministry in the United Kingdom that “seeks to transform communities and individuals through championing and resourcing new ways of being church.”
Interested to learn more about reaching out to in your neighbors with the love of Jesus? Jenifer’s neighbors would be happy to encourage you. Bring coffee, join the chaos, and watch for the God moments.
Sharon K. Williams is a musician, editor and congregational/non-profit consultant. She serves the Lord with the Nueva Vida Norristown New Life congregation as minister of worship.