There's simply no better way to get to know a neighborhood than to walk it, so after a morning pre-marital counseling session and coffee with our "bears" group (they make stuffed bears for the children's wings of our local hospitals), I started walking. This week, my wife is indexing a book, so I took care of the 4 month old for the morning, and included him on the morning portion of the walk.
First stop: the business park directly across the parking lot from our church. Although I've looked at this building every day since I've arrived, I've never stopped into any of the businesses. As I'm walking up to the building, a parishioner (and our contemporary worship mandolinist) arrives to collect taxes from a business. I skip that one until later, and instead peak in on an appraisal office. Lovely pair of folks working there who coo over the baby (now dubbed the assistant pastor), and we talk about their transitions to semi-retirement, closing the office down as they move their business home.
Next stop over is a law office. One lawyer welcomes me into her office while she is meeting with a client. The client turns out to be an ELCA Lutheran from Austin, Texas, who has yet to connect to a church in Fayetteville. So we chat about that a bit, I ask about another lawyer who had been in this office and used to attend one of our bible studies, and learn she has transitioned juvenile court and works downtown.
In each place, I say "blessings on your day" and move on.
Around the corner is a CPA, doing papers outside in the shade and smoking a cigarette. We speak very briefly (when you walk the neighborhood, you quickly learn whether and how open people are to chatting--if they're busy, they'll let you know), and I walk right past the Methodist District Office. I seriously had no idea it was there, because it's on the back side of the building and doesn't face a street or our church. Closed today, but that's a surprise.
Then a quick walk up to the Church of the Nazarene, the closest church to us. Larry Woodward, originally from Iowa, with stints in Texas and elsewhere, has served as pastor there for 27 years, but we'd never met. Take some time to sit in his office and share our stories. I learn Church of the Nazarene comes out of the Wesleyan tradition, formed in a renewal that happened in 1908. Wonderfully friendly neighboring pastor, I know I'll try to connect again in the future, but today was our first meeting!
Then back down to the church for some water, pick up the stroller for the baby, and then begin the walk to meet my wife for lunch at the coffee shop.
I walk the long stretch of Rolling Hills with the stroller, having decided to stop at any house that has someone outside working in the front yard or sitting on the porch. Kitty corner from our church a snow bird family (originally from Iowa--all day there was an intense Iowa theme, woot!) was out gardening. He was growing hot peppers and watering a few other plants. They love our carillons, and thanked us for playing them. She had read some of my articles in the paper, and they've visited us a time or two for choir concerts.
Further on down, two women were enjoying the shade on their front porch. Both natives of the neighborhood, they had just recently moved into this house. Learned a lot from them about the overall character of the neighborhood right around our church, and talked about the growth in population in NWA over the past decade.
By this time, the baby had fallen asleep in the shade of the stroller, but it was and is powerfully hot and muggy outside, so I decided to move a bit more briskly along. I think I confused a few folks in their cars because I was pushing a baby stroller alone while wearing a Roman collar. :)
The rest of Rolling Hills I didn't encounter anyone in their yards, but did chat up some guys working out front of the Michelin store. Then went into Mama Carmen's for coffee and lunch. This is my coffee shop, I'm there multiple times each week, know all the staff, met my wife for lunch, and even bumped into another member from our church who just joined this past week.
After coffee and sandwiches, said goodbye to the family and headed out for an afternoon strolling alone (I met a woman from Bosnia who was friends with our members, thus making the third person from eastern Europe I had met in two days, the other being our neighbors from Hungary who were at the pool last night). I walked back down to the corner of College and Rollings Hills and stopped in at the castle tattoo parlor. It actually looks like a castle on the outside, and inside they continue the theme. Very kind secretary and tattoo artist (no, I didn't get a tattoo--at least not today).
Then back outside, where it was so incredibly hot and sunny that I made a bee line for the Shaved Planet shaved ice stand. This was a brilliant idea. I combined wild strawberry and vanilla syrups. Those would be good at almost any moment, but in the sun they take on an especially robust particularity. Yum!
As I'm walking away, passing a beauty parlor, up pulls parishioner #3, who is stopping in to get hair spray. She invites me into the salon to meet the woman who has been cutting her hair for eight years. The salon has the most viny plants I've ever seen indoors, and I've already decided I'm going to get my hair cut there. Good to see photos of this parishioners newest grandchild and spend some time chatting, then she was off to an appointment, and I was off to...
The Suzuki Piano Studio, what else? Met this incredible woman who has been running a fantastic Suzuki piano method program in a little hole in the wall place behind Rick's Meat Market for over 28 years. Got some spectacular advice on the kind of piano to buy, and am tentatively on the waiting list for our daughter to take lessons there when she turns four. Hard to describe her classroom, but imagine a store front that looks like someone's living room on the inside, but with a grand piano and a place for siblings to hang out and read books. Very cute.
Back over to Rick's to buy a bottle of water, then an attempt to visit another neighboring church (failed, it was closed for the day), then a long walk through a bit more afluent neighborhood. I walked one mile without seeing anyone in their yard. Perhaps another day I'll do door-to-door knocking, but today I just walked. Decided that ferns and hastas are ideal perimeter plants to grow in shade, and resolved to plant lots of them in our yard.
Made it back to church in time to hang out with all the parents picking their kids up from Butterfield Elementary across the street from our church. Many families park in our parking lot and meet their children there to stay out of the traffic of the school. Definitely need to set up a coffee or lemonade stand or something back there for them, but for today I just got the scoop on the school our son will attend next year.
They departed, and I took a stroll down the other street north of the church and stopped at the rehab center right by the school. The administrator there was thrilled for me to have stopped in, because she had it on her agenda to invite the area clergy to a breakfast to talk about ways we could connect with their clients and provide spiritual care. I was thrilled to be back in air-conditioning.
Finally, I walked the neighborhood directly north of our church, more duplexes and rental. Chatted very briefly with a few clusters of boys out playing after school, then met another neighbor who had also just moved into a house kitty corner from the church.
Overall, I was surprised how open everyone was to conversation, and pleased to have a pastor stop by. I was in clerics, so people could "profile" me from a distance. Second, I was amazed to think that in a neighborhood that has seven church buildings in less than a mile, almost everyone I met at their actual homes doesn't go to any church, and most of the people working in shops don't either.
Finally, I was the only person out walking. It may have been the heat (note to self: get a wide-brimmed hat for the walk next Tuesday), but I was surprised not to encounter anyone using their feet for transportation. It felt good to be out, to pray as a I walked, to attend to the world around me, and to simply be open to whatever.
Can't wait for day 2, which I'll blog next week.