What Does Loving Our Neighbor and Doing Justice Look Like? Sometimes it Looks a Lot Like Soccer.
August 4, 2021
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.