JUST BEING NEIGHBORLY
Several years ago while on her way to church, one of our members was stopped by an irate man. Pat had been accustomed to cutting across this gentleman's yard on her way to Sunday school. She said the man yelled, "You wake me up every Sunday morning when you thunder your way along the path you are making in my yard. Find another route!"
Pat asked me, "Can you believe he raised such a fit?"
Although I mumbled a sympathetic comment, I identified with the man. Sometimes neighbors have legitimate gripes-whether it's because of people walking (or driving) on the neighbor's lawn, chimes that play at too high a decibel level, a softball team that keeps hitting foul balls into a neighbor's yard, or a rowdy youth group in the parking lot on Sunday night.
On the other hand, some neighbors are simply antagonistic. Some like to be in control and won't agree to any church initiative that affects their common boundary. Some antireligious neighbors fight the church on philosophical grounds.
Most conflicts with neighbors, however, can be avoided. Central to good relationships remains good communication. In addition, two other principles help churches remain good neighbors.
First, be certain the church is serving the community, not just itself. Churches have numerous opportunities to provide services for the community that no other resident can provide. The grounds, parking, and fellowship space often provide the church with opportunities to be a good neighbor.
In Louisville, our church provided parking for a neighbor during his annual Kentucky Derby barbecue. Although he had the picnic area to host two hundred people, he couldn't park their cars.
When neighborhood organizations need a facility, we can respond warmly, as good neighbors.
Second, agreements with neighbors should be written. Any agreement should be between the neighbor and the church, not the neighbor and the pastor.
Years ago, my predecessor and a church neighbor agreed to share a volleyball set. The neighbor would purchase the net and poles. In return, the equipment would be placed on church property. The neighbor would have priority if a scheduling conflict arose.
Time passed. My predecessor resigned and departed with the agreement in his mind but not in the files. The following Fourth of July, an argument erupted when the church and the neighbor's guests decided to play volleyball at the same time. Although the argument was short, it could have created hard feelings. The pastor had made an agreement without informing the church or writing it down.
When disagreements do arise, I've discovered several options.
At times, patience will solve the problem. Our church shares a property line with a healthcare corporation. We have an agreement concerning the maintenance and use of a parking facility: all spaces designated as shared parking are accessible during business hours to the corporation; at all other times, the church has use of all the parking.
Last year the corporation placed a barrier across one of their entry ...