Submitted by: Rodney Brandsen, Gibson CRC
One of the realities that has emerged in the listening phase of our renewal process at Gibson Church (in Laketown Township along the shore of Lake Michigan in southwest Michigan) is that our neighbors do not know us, nor do we really know our neighbors. We are discerning the need to establish connections and build relationships anew with our neighbors through some simple acts of missional hospitality.
In addition to thinking of some fresh ways we can create meetup opportunities for our neighbors and ourselves, we are also seeking partnerships with existing social gatherings in our context. The Felt Mansion is a restored mansion nestled in the dunes on the shore of Lake Michigan just a mile down the road from Gibson and now used for weddings and other events. Gibson’s original 1905 white clapboard chapel was moved and is now part of the Felt Mansion property having been donated a few years ago to the township that manages and owns this historical property.
The last few summers, the Felt Mansion hosts a concert series, this year each July Thursday evening. This has become a popular series that attracts to a single concert as many as 1000 neighbors from Laketown and the larger west Michigan area. These are free events for admission, with local food trucks and beverage vendors present selling their goods to concert goers. Through some contacts and conversation with the director of the Felt Mansion, Gibson Church was invited to partner with the Felt Mansion Concert Series to be present at the concerts with the simple missional hospitality. We are present and give out free ice cream cups, some Gibson logo’d koozies with the words “Life is a restoration project” tying in with the whole Felt Mansion restoration spirit, as well as Gibson’s renewal story. In the first two weeks of the series, we have given out lots of free ice cream, logo’d koozies, and a card that proclaims that we are “FOR Laketown” along with some additional limited information to introduce ourselves to our neighbors.
We have had many pleasant and friendly brief conversations with various concert goers expressing gratitude and even surprise that we would be present with no-expectation freebies at the concerts. But, we also have had deeper conversations with some who come by and are willing to open up and share their lives a little more deeply simply because we are there with the gift of hospitality and presence. More people are learning about Gibson Church and our mission, and we are getting to know more of our neighbors in a very fun and engaging context.
We are praying for even deeper and longer-lasting relationships of enfolding and discipling, but it all starts with meeting our neighbors in a non-threatening and hospitable way right where they are already.