“Who is my neighbor?”
It’s an eternal question and we don’t always like the answer because it can be challenging. Our neighbor could include the stranger, the broken, the enemy. But maybe that relationship is precisely the one that could surprise us the most.
Last night I spent nearly five hours at the City Hall in Edina, MN to listen to public discussion before the City Planning Commission on an affordable housing project proposed by Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative. They’re hoping to build a 39-unit building across the street from Southdale and need approval to build in a part of the city that would need special permission because of its zoning regulations. This building and the professional services inside will help young adults, ages 18-22, who have experienced homelessness be able to transition to living on their own, paying rent, getting a job, going to school, and so on. I fully support this.
There has been tremendous support and recently there’s been some dissent, as well. There was a lot of powerful testimony from many perspectives last night, appealing to so many ways of thinking about this issue. From safety and security concerns for current residents and businesses to safety and security for homeless young people who need a second or third chance. From the potential for local business growth to the nervousness of business damage. From location to money to parking to community. No one spoke superfluously; all spoke from the heart. And whether I agreed with them or not, and whether I thought everyone spoke with healthy wording or not, I appreciated that all who did speak did so with passion. It shows a tremendous investment in the community and for my money, only good things can come from that.
What follows is what I said at the forum. I honestly can’t recall speaking at a public forum like this before so it was new to me and an interesting experience. I came because friends from Richfield United Methodist Church encouraged me to attend and I’m glad they did. I spoke because I heard people talk about this community or that community but not everyone together as the community. So here’s what I said (going off my notes and memory):
My name is Nate Melcher and I’m the Associate Pastor at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church in downtown Minneapolis. My family and I live at XXX X XXXX XXXXXX in Minneapolis, just a few blocks north of The Hub at West 66th. My previous vocation was running a residence life program at a community college and I’ve seen first-hand what happens when a community of young people come together to live and have assistance from intentional, in-house professional services.
I’m highly-interested in young people finding meaning in their lives. In the research that’s out there in the life of the church, they find the one thing that makes young people continue or return to church is that they have an intergenerational connection in their congregation when they’re young, an intergenerational connection who they’re not related to, that’s what matters. I have to think that transfers over to other aspects of life.
What an opportunity this could be for this neighborhood to come together. What intentional connections could there be? What would a Colony / West 66 Block Party look like for National Night Out next year? What happens when communities are brought together with intentionality and professional support? What hope could neighbors offer each other when they truly know each other? Stereotypes of young adults, old adults. Those start to fade away when we dwell as neighbors.
Right now, there is fear. The fear is very real and it comes from emotions and emotions are valid. I take that from no one. And, fear is what can squelch the very real need for empathy. These young people are at a disadvantage in this relationship because we know their stuff, we know their baggage. But they don’t know ours yet, they don’t know our neighbors. Because we’ve all got stuff. And really, we don’t know their stuff. We’ve heard some powerful testimony but mostly what we have our stereotypes. And that’s where fear can push down empathy – the desire to truly want to know each other as neighbors. We’ll only know their stories if we ask them. Not to interrogate them or grill them to make sure they’re the right people for our neighborhood but to know them as people. And for them to know us.
This will change the neighborhood. And that is an opportunity. I hear phrases like change is inevitable or change is hard. These are difficult phrases when framing change. But in the last year or so I heard someone say or write something different. They said “Change is possible.” What a possibility for a beautiful change for this neighborhood’s backyard.
We’ve been given the keys to the kingdom. Let’s not slam the gate shut. Let’s open it and say, welcome, neighbor. Thank you.
As I was writing this post, I learned that this did pass with the Commissioners, 4-1. It would go before the City Council, either way, yet this is an affirming move that helps propel West 66th into the realm of reality and lives will be changed for many of our very young, very real, homeless neighbors.
What do you think?