“Slow down. Pay attention. Do good work. Love your neighbors. Put down roots. Love where you have been placed. Settle for less, enjoy it more. ”
– Wendell Berry
A few weeks ago, our next-door neighbour confirmed the news for us that we had been dreading. He was planning to sell his house and move out of our neighbourhood. Four years ago, he had warmly welcomed our loud family of six into the community, where we essentially share a backyard and talk across our decks. Remember the 90s sitcoms where the family had a significant neighbour? He has been our Wilson, our Mr. Feeny. When I think of our relationship with this neighbour, the growth in our friendship has been a gift from the pandemic. In a season when we haven’t been able to travel, and we’ve spent more time at home, we’ve had to put down roots. We’ve had to slow down and pay attention.
As we look ahead to Undercurrent in a couple of months, the significance of this weekend lies in your team’s ability to slow down, to pay attention, to do good work, and to love your neighbours. For many of us, our plans have been thwarted many times due to the various “waves” of the pandemic, and we’re uncertain about what the summer can look like. What if we find ourselves back in (or still in) lockdown? What if we still can’t gather with our students in the ways that we had hoped?
How can your students make a difference during Undercurrent even if you’re in lockdown? We believe you can still take part in neighbouring activities, even if you’re forced to still be at home. Our local officials continue to be optimistic that the summer months will look more “normal” as our vaccination numbers continue to grow. But even if they don’t, in the weeks leading up to Undercurrent, these may be opportunities for you to engage your students in local mission. They may also spark other ideas as you dialogue with your champion team and your students.
Could you enlist someone from your congregation to lead a card-making session online with your students? If you worked out a supply list with this person, you could even drop off supply kits to your students ahead of a virtual card-making sessions. By including some pre-stamped envelopes, students could even mail the cards themselves.
Who could potential recipients be? Consider calling a local long-term care home, and asking for a list of residents. There are likely seniors in your congregation who are feeling isolated. There may be some new parents who are separated from families due to closed borders or extended restrictions. Create a list of potential recipients.
This suggestion is likely not going to work for many of your students, but for some of your outgoing students who don’t mind talking on the phone, consider giving them a phone list of people from your congregation. Work on a potential phone script with your students, and have them make some phone calls, offering to pray for people in your church (do the homework of gathering the list – you want to make sure it’s a positive experience for the student!)
Homemade baked goods
Challenge students to a virtual baking challenge, and have them bake cookies for their neighbours. You could make this a virtual gathering again and have students set up their phones in the kitchen. Gather a couple of excellent bakers from your church to join the zoom call, and have experts weigh in with their opinions and tips. This can go a long way toward building intergenerational relationships in your church, and can help students get to know their neighbours. Consider doing some supply bags up for your students, so they’re working from the same set of ingredients, and to support families who may not be able to cover the additional cost.
Trash pick up
If outside restrictions permit it, encourage your students to take part in a neighbourhood trash pick up. They could do their own streets, or you could gather in smaller groups. Supply bags and gloves, and encourage students to upload photos of their collection efforts. Maybe offer a prize for students who find the most unusual items. Remember to brief your students on items that are not safe to pick up, and check with your local municipality over garbage picking instructions.
Outside Lawn Work and other chores
Now that we’re well into the second pandemic spring, we’re remembering that our grass still grows and needs to be cut! Some of your students may be willing to cut lawns for people in your community, or even some local organizations who rely on volunteers. There may be some opportunities to explore for your students to provide some lawn care or other help around the home. Are there decks that need painted? Are there dogs who could be walked? Are there outside projects that can be completed at other organizations, such as a daycare who could use a painted deck?
Spend some time helping your students learn how they can be praying for their neighbourhoods. Encourage them to draw a neighbourhood or community map, drawing the streets and homes, and praying for the people who live in those homes.
We believe that God is inviting us to join him in our neighbourhoods. We believe that God still wants us to participate in his actions – even during the pandemic! What ideas do you have for Undercurrent, if you find yourself in tight restrictions?