What makes our city?

In our public expression of the work of PiE, Jessica & I often refer to Jeremiah 29:7 – “But seek the well-being [shalom] of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its well-being you will find your own well-being.” We take this passage out of its context with the Judeans in ancient Babylon, and apply this as a new calling with old words for the church in our city today.

But what do I mean when I say ‘city’?

When I refer to city, I refer to Kitchener-Waterloo.[1] I mean the integrated whole; the people, the buildings, the trees, the animals, the roads, the weather, the issues. I also mean the rural areas surrounding Kitchener-Waterloo. In my eyes, if you regularly commute into K-W for work, groceries, church, or social life – you are also a part of the well-being of our city. City dwellers need to also be concerned about the well-being of New Hamburg, Wellesley, St. Jacobs, Elmira, St. Clements, Hawkesville and the people around those towns. A city is fed by its surround rural area. They’re all one organism in my eyes.

So when I say city, I mean the city itself, and the rural area surrounding. I mean the people inside the city, and the people near the city who regularly commute in for various reasons. The city is a hub for all sorts of life. It is a vibrant and rich ecosystem.

But what does it mean to seek the well-being of the city? Where is God calling us into?

Photo cred: Morgan G.

Photo cred: Morgan G.

First, we need to get to know our city. I mean really get to know it. It’s hard to get to know a place by zooming past it in your car on the highway and major roads. Go for walks. Take the bus. Get to know your neighbours. Participate in events outside your social group. Volunteer.

Open your eyes and ears to the community around you. Hear the birds. Watch the rabbits. Grow a garden – get to know the soil beneath your city.

Try ignoring the depressing national and international news, get to know your local section. What is happening all around you that actually affects your day-to-day life? What are the causes that people around you are passionate about?

Listen to what others can teach you. Study our city – learn about its history – learn and breathe the way it is and what injustices are carried by the past. Creatively dream of ways in which our city could be better.

Sit down in a public space and people watch.

Educate yourself on what is happening in other cities to promote well-being. Check out this fascinating 20-minute video the CBC produced earlier this year:

If you’re a church-goer, annihilate the wall between your Sunday morning church service and the neighbourhood around you. Get to know your neighbours in your church’s neighbourhood. If that’s too hard, start going to a church that’s closer to home. We’re called to love our neighbours, not the walls of the religious prisons[2] we like to build.

I’m no expert on this. I’m making it up as I go along. And there’s still a lot I don’t know or don’t see. But I have learned a little bit here and there – and I’m looking forward to learning more!

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[1] I would love to be more inclusive of Cambridge, but realistically because of geography and practicality, very little of our work involves Cambridge. I’m sorry for exiling Cambridge. I don’t know how to change that; if you have ideas, let me know!
[2] Maybe I’m being a bit too candid. But if our church buildings are used to shield us from the outside world instead of as a space to connect with our neighbours, then they are more religious prisons than churches. That’s actually unfair to prisons, because God shows up in real prisons all the time. Jesus calls us to the margins. Why do you think it’s so hard for people to come to church on Sunday morning? If God were actually there, do you think people would actually want to stay away? How can we cultivate God’s fullness in our Christian communities?

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