What Does Loving Our Neighbor and Doing Justice Look Like? Sometimes it Looks a Lot Like Soccer.

Written by Pastor Lydia Shiu, Director of Social Justice and Action 

Soccer Nights, a free, week-long summer soccer camp, has been a legacy of Reservoir for over a decade. I first heard about it while interviewing for the pastoral job here at Reservoir about 3 years ago. I was on the phone in my parked car in San Francisco, dreaming about a whole new life on the other side of the country. At the end of our interview, Connie (a long-time member at Reservoir) asked me if there were any questions I had for her. I asked, “What’s the thing you’re most excited or proud of at Reservoir that’s going on right now?” She said, “Soccer Nights.”  

She told me about Reservoir’s neighbors on Rindge Ave. Just a few blocks down from our church stand 3 tall affordable housing buildings. Residents are mostly black and brown, immigrants, and of other faith traditions than Christian. Soccer Nights was for them. Each summer, over 300 kids from the neighborhood signed up to play soccer. And there was no mention of Jesus or the Bible. 

It wasn’t VBS. (No knock on Vacation Bible Schools – I’ve been a part of plenty.) But doing church and ministry in this post-evangelical, pluralistic world means doing things differently. What I mean is, the question of how a church is doing a “missional” or “outward facing program” has changed over time. It’s no longer about just getting a Bible in hands or telling kids about Jesus. Colonialism has left enough bitter taste that people leave the faith and church alltogether just by knowing the history of what the church has done in the name of “mission” that was actually about conquering and wiping out cultures and nations. With that history in mind, we have to ask ourselves as a church: how do we do church that’s not that any more, not anything near resembling colonialism and conquering?

That probably wasn’t the original intent of how Soccer Nights started. I heard some people loved soccer and wanted to share it with our neighbors. But for me, this model of being a church in the city is powerful and innovative. Because I know how churches have in the past served, volunteered, and provided programs only to bait and switch to “accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior or you’re going to hell.” (Hey, maybe it’s just me, cause I have some baggage with church and Christianity…) I also knew what it meant to not do things like soccer growing up because it was too expensive. So hearing about Soccer Nights, a church program with no mention of Jesus and no registration fee, for me, was music to my ears, a new dawn of the Good News that I could only hope that I’d get to be a part of. 

This year, after a year of things being cancelled due to the pandemic, I got to be a part of Soccer Nights. And it was beautiful. The diversity. The playfulness. The joy. All of it. It was a light shining in the darkness of Covid this year. 

Russell Field was open with hundreds of kids running around. Kids of all colors and all ages playing. Soccer Nights has been around long enough that kids who grew up with Soccer Nights are now in high school, old enough to coach. They are called the Crew Team. Some Crew members even joined the leadership Core Team, helping to run the program. I chatted them up about their majors, the pressure of picking the right career paths, and going against that to take care of your mental health and enjoying the moment. Cause I knew a bit about the pressures of being a child of immigrants who just wanted the best for you at all costs. 

Jerry’s Pond Project 

About 9 months ago, an unexpected offshoot of Soccer Nights happened. I was connected with Reservoir member, Taylor Yates, a real estate professional, about the small pond next to Russell Field, right across the street with the affordable housing buildings on Rindge Ave. He told me that a biotech development company had bought the Jerry’s Pond area and that this could be an opportunity to bring the voice of the community to the development process.

I reached out to Soccer Nights Crew Core Team member, Anusha Alam, to ask if she might be interested in getting involved. She lives in the neighborhood and is a recipient of Reservoir’s scholarship turned Soccer Nights alumni. Together with Taylor, Anusha, and Sue Rosenkranz (who’s been involved with Soccer Nights over the years as well as Reservoir’s Faith Into Action team) we began working to bring community representation to the process. We showed up, partnered with other Cambridge organizations like Friends of Jerry’s Pond (FOJP), Just-A-Start (a nonprofit housing and service provider), and Alewife Study Group (ASG), and somehow got a seat at the table in a series of discussions of the multi-million dollar biotech lab development project. You can see Anusha quoted in articles like this one on WBUR regarding the work, and you’d never know that it came about through Soccer Nights. The myriad ways of relationships developed through Soccer Nights that played a role in this project alone can’t all be named in this blog post. 

IQHQ conceptual design draft for Rindge Ave. and Jerry’s Pond.

The development is still underway, so I can’t say too much about it yet publicly. Discussions of beautification for the once fenced-off pond with public access are being had as well as investment toward scholarships and career development, a community garden, and more. I can’t wait to tell you more about the exciting work towards environmental justice, equity, and representation that the Reservoir community has been stewarding and building. I am so proud of our work, our heart and love for the neighborhood. I just wanted to share the news in progress right now.

There’s plenty more work and potential opportunities. A parent at Soccer Nights was telling me about her son’s school and its broken systems. Working with Just-A-Start has opened my eyes to housing concerns and opportunities in Cambridge. And if the Jerry’s Pond project and work with the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization has taught me anything, it’s that the work of justice is sometimes tedious, sitting in many boring meetings. If you’d like to be involved, let me know and I’ll connect you with our Reservoir’s Faith Into Action network. 

Lastly, soccer is a great way to love our neighbor and do justice. Because sometimes, it’s not about being in the temples and meetings. Sometimes it’s just sitting in the bleachers, watching our kids play soccer together, that we build friendships and from friendships come the connection and the power to make a change together. 

Big thanks to everyone who showed up to Soccer Nights, volunteered, contributed financially to Reservoir to support this program, and a special thanks to Nick and Christy, the co-directors of Soccer Nights 2021. It was a highlight of my summer to be there.

Faith and the City

At the invitation of a Reservoir member, I bopped across the river today to Boston University for an interesting event, called Faith and the City. It was hosted by BU’s interesting Initiative on Cities, founded in part by Boston’s former mayor, Tom Menino.

BU’s Dean of Marsh Chapel led a panel of clergy that have been associated with three of Boston’s more prominent religious institutions – Trinity Church, Charles St. A.M.E. Church, and the Islamic Society of Boston Cutlural Center. Rev. Rainey Dankel, Shaykh Yusif Fahmy, and Rev. Dr. Theodore Hickman-Maynard all discussed their experiences in leading faith communities that seek to be of relevance and service to their cities. They talked about the complexities of owning buildings in cities, serving communities from positions of both poverty and privilege, and the role they see their congregations playing at their best.

I came away with both thanks and questions.

I was so grateful for Reservoir Church as Rev. Hickman-Maynard talked about the challenges of churches in their old buildings. He described situations where churches own buildings they can’t properly fill and have to spend a quarter to a third of their budget simply maintaining the property. He described other situations where churches overspend on their facilities, assuming they are still the communal center of their city, when they no longer have that role in society.

This made me so glad for the blessing of our property. We own one of the largest church properties in the city of Cambridge, a property that takes considerable resources to maintain. But we share its use with the Benjamin Banneker Charter Public School, whose 350 students and their teachers and families use the space throughout the week.  The Banneker gets a well-maintained property and an attentive and supportive landlord at a fair and reasonable price. And the church receives rent, which covers the majority of our facility costs. Both institutions and our city as a whole benefit from this shared space use. It’s really a great partnership.

I’m grateful too for our work as Reservoir in the City. For a dozen years now, we’ve been building relationships with the people who live and work in our neighborhood and we continue to build sustainable and mutually-edifying partnerships with individuals and organizations throughout the City of Cambridge. We are widely recognized as a church that loves our neighbors, and we partner with the public schools, the police, and our neighbors to sponsor events and meet needs in North Cambridge. We desire to serve and receive from our neighborhood in a spirit of joyful reciprocity, joining people and organizations that are doing great work in our community, and empowering our neighbors to become partners in projects that we work on together.

I’m so grateful for community potlucks, interfaith dinners, free soccer clinics, block parties, leadership development programs, and church-school partnerships that Reservoir participates in. Last week, I visited some of our elderly Muslim neighbors in their home. We ate together and exchanged gifts, they provided some religious instruction to my sons from the Quran. I prayed for their ailments in the name of Jesus. We left after much embracing. Another moment of the treasure it is for a faith community to share life in a city.

But today’s event left me with questions as well.

-In an era of decreasing participation in faith communities, do our communities still have resources to be vital participants in the life of our cities?

-In a time when religious institutions have often rightfully been seen as contributors to national and global problems, how can we be excellent civic partners in the flourishing our our communities?

-And in a time of enormous civic division and disconnectedness, could the cultivating of healthy and diverse community be one of the greatest balms a church can offer our times, while also one of the greatest displays of spiritual power we can offer?

I’m excited about some of the theological and missiological work Reservoir’s been part of in response to these questions. I’m also excited about our membership in the Christian Community Development Association and a growing partnership with Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, that will help us not to answer these questions alone.

Resources for Engaging in Action in a Broken World

Last week, I spoke on our value for action. Here’s the phrase again that guides us.

  • Action: Love for Jesus compels us to act—to seek justice, show compassion, work for reconciliation, and hope for transformation in joyful engagement with the world.

We also shared some information on ways that individuals and community groups can be engaged in action this fall. Here they are:

ACTION IN THE RESERVOIR CHURCH COMMUNITY, FALL 2016

Reservoir in the City

Assist a local public school through weekly tutoring, or helping run a monthly subsidized market for our local school and community. (Contact: Tory Tolles – tory@reservoirchurch.org)
Attend or help host Ladies’ nights at the Fresh Pond Apartments. Celebrate femininity with henna, threading, food, and music. (Contact: Tory Tolles – tory@reservoirchurch.org)
Attend or help host Soccer Sundays. Build athletic skill and sportsmanship while playing soccer with young people in North Cambridge. (Contact: Cate Nelson – cate@reservoirchurch.org)

Help Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO) get out the vote for Boston’s Community Preservation Act (CPA), setting aside more municipal funding for affordable housing, green space expansion and reservation, and historic preservation. To learn more about CPA or to offer help contacting voters living in Boston, go to https://www.sites.google.com/site/gbiocpacampaign/home, talk to Sue Rosenkranz after service today, or email Sarah Outterson-Murphy at soutterson@gmail.com.

Join Tory in attending GBIO’s three-day (11/11-11/13) training on community organizing. (Contact: Tory Tolles – tory@reservoirchurch.org)

Other Reservoir-Related Ventures

Give to a scholarship fund for a displaced college-bound teen our community has been supporting. Over the coming year, we will be looking for further ways to support less privileged college-going youth in our community. (Contact: Dorothy Hanna – dorothy@reservoirchurch.org)

Give to Reservoir Church. Ten percent of tithes and offerings go to local and global partnerships with people and organizations we admire who are pursuing justice, compassion, reconciliation, or transformation. These are highlighted every Sunday your Events and Happenings. Much more of our budget supports our local outreach and efforts at community engagement and transformation.http://www.reservoirchurch.org/about/giving/

Community Resources, Actions of our Members

Peruse the A.R.T.’s list of Boston-area groups working in the areas of education, youth, criminal justice, or racial and economic justice, and offer your time and support. http://americanrepertorytheater.org/page/notes-field-get-involved

Participate in a day trip to get out the vote in NH on Saturday, November 5th. Training will be provided on site, pizza and beer afterwards.  (Contact: Val Snekvik – val.snekvik@gmail.com)

In your own workplace or field of work, look for ways you can pursue justice, compassion, reconciliation, or transformation. Big impacts often take significant and long efforts over many years. Start with what’s in front of you, and see what you and partners can accomplish in fifteen or twenty years.

Buy granola from our friends at The Providence Granola Project, who employ and train refugees in producing a healthy, tasty product for you. http://www.providencegranola.com/

Ask your friends and community group members at Reservoir what they are doing to pursue justice, compassion, reconciliation, or transformation. See if you can participate.

Having a Blast in the Neighborhood

Last night was our first night of Soccer Nights. This is our ninth year running a free week of soccer, leadership development, and city unity in our neighborhood of North Cambridge. We’ve inspired other Soccer Nights programs around the city and in a few other spots in the country, but we love ours the most of course.

We had 203 six to twelve year-old children get out of their apartments and be together, learning to pass soccer balls while playing on a team and having a great time! A bevy of young children and parents played together in our 3-to-5 year old division. Nearly 20 thirteen to fifteen year-olds are enrolled in CREW, our leadership development and volunteer program. And another 75+ community volunteers coached, set up the field, served snacks, hosted parents, and organized tonight. Multi-generation Cantibrigians talked and played and danced alongside immigrants from Ethiopia and Bangladesh and Somalia and Haiti and Eritrea and Jamaica and China and more.

It was a beautiful night.

Our church is passionate about loving without agenda, and it is a gift to see the fruit of years of this commitment. Former Soccer Nights players are coaching now. A past parent participant is serving as official photographer. A former member of our youth ministry is directing the whole program, while other graduates of our youth ministry serve as interns and a past director serves under her as a division leader.

Tonight, one of our leaders said to me, “Hey, this is kind of like that ‘Art of Neighboring’ thing we talked about this spring! Is there a connection?”

You betcha.

Map your neighborhood

The art of neighboring for all of us is learning to find the life Jesus promises in loving our neighbor as ourselves, learning that this command is integrally linked to the experience of loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and experiencing God’s great love for us.

We neighbor as a church by encouraging us all to notice and love the people where we work and live, but we neighbor together as Reservoir in the City by noticing and loving our beautifully diverse and vibrant neighborhood of North Cambridge.

Beyond Soccer Nights, we’ve had some other fun and rewarding adventures in neighboring this month. We co-hosted with our Muslim neighbors our annual Iftar – the post-sunset dinner that Muslims share in community to break their fast each night during the month of Ramadan. This is a beautiful evening of peace-making and friendship and eating of big plates of delicious Bengali food!

This year, in my mini-talk, I reminded my Christian and Muslim neighbors of a story Isa al-Masih (Jesus the Messiah in Arabic, an honored and beloved prophet in Muslim religion) told in the Injil (Arabic for the New Testament). I told them that Isa said God is like a shepherd looking for a lost sheep and a woman looking for a lost coin, that as we fast and search for God, we can remember that God is also searching for us.

The picture below is actually from another Iftar this month, when my family and the Tolles family joined my friend pictured here, the imam Ismail Fenni, and a number of other city residents for a shared meal at the mosque in Central Square.

Iftar_Steve_Ismail_2016

Earlier this month, we also baked and bought cookies for teachers in three local schools. Six volunteers baked and shared 350 cookies to appreciate 174 educators in these three schools in our neighborhood. One principal was so appreciative that a conversation ensued about a further partnership between that school and our church.

 

Big props to our Reservoir in the City part-time staff team – Cate Nelson, Tory Tolles, and Alice Liu, to our many dedicated volunteers, to all those that contribute financially to this church, and to our remarkable neighborhood where we get to love and neighbor without agenda.

It’s so good to be your neighbor, and to neighbor together!

Iftar_Watsons_2016

(The Watsons, Iftaring together…)

More pictures of non-Watson neighbors to come…!