For the past five months, the UniteBoston Reps have been engaging in various activities to listen and learn from their communities. These next four weeks, each rep will be writing a brief blog to share their findings with the Greater Boston Christian community. This week, Betsy Slate, Director of Community Engagement at Fenway Church is sharing her insights from the Fenway Community.
We dream of having every community in Boston connected with a UB Rep! UB Rep Cohorts begin in October and extend to May. If you’re interested in being a UB Rep in your community, email Kelly Steinhaus, firstname.lastname@example.org
(Photo Credit: www.colleges-fenway.org)
Strolling through the Fenway neighborhood, you’re likely to meet people from all walks of life. You may meet Fatma, who has come from Saudi Arabia to the area for its proximity to the Longwood Medical Center; her daughter is ill with a disease that she’s come to Children’s Hospital with hope for a cure. Continuing down Boylston Street, you meet someone like Mark, a student from California who has come to study music at Berklee, just trying to figure out the ins and outs of adulthood. As you pass the Fenway Victory Gardens, you meet Janine and Bobby, long-term residents who find a sense of community in the very ground of the Fenway. Rounding the bend, you bump into Clara, a resident of the Fenway for over three decades, working to see the community become just that – a community, a people that care about one another and the state of the neighborhood.
The beauty of the Fenway lies therein; a diverse group of people brought together geographically – often for a limited period of time. This neighborhood is denoted by transition, which puts the area at risk for great instability. With the number of families dropping each year, the increase of young, transient residents and ever-rising housing prices, one could look at the Fenway and think it’s headed for disaster. But, if you search for God’s heartbeat in the humdrum of this bustling neighborhood, you’ll hear a different rhythm, one that softly drums hope.
Despite the odds being stacked against the neighborhood, God is bringing together individuals from these different social groups to generate unity for social impact. This is not a community that backs down from a challenge; organizations like the Fenway Community Development Corporation (FCDC) are bringing together students, long term residents, and families to build an “urban village” – a place with ample and affordable housing, healthy local business, shared indoor and outdoor community spaces, and good access to transportation. Further, residents and developers – typically at odds – are partnering to see a Community Center come to fruition. While these may look “practical” and not “spiritual,” they are the instruments God can use to bring about a community knitted together in shalom – community-wide, holistic peace characterized by relationships as He intended.
Though we’re seeing the first signs of partnership between residents and students, there is still much to be done. On the whole, the church in the Fenway can partner to bring peace and reconciliation alongside local community workers. Division seems to always be at work in the Fenway. Even the geography reflects the struggle between unity and division: the Fens – the park system iconic of the neighborhood – is both a space to unite the neighborhood and which separates the Fenway in an east-west divide. Churches in the Fenway must unite across geography and turf, and share a common vision to see this neighborhood transformed. Followers of Jesus throughout the Fenway can then enter community organizations as learners with a sense of peace and unity that will come to the whole neighborhood.
Futher, the church can function as peacemakers between disparate groups in the Fenway. Long term residents sometimes feel at odds with students, the transience of whom lead to increased housing costs and poor living conditions within the neighborhood; whereas students are largely unaware of their place in the community. The church can act as ministers of reconciliation in the Fenway by facilitating the connection between the residential community and the student community. A neighborhood is not one group or another; rather, it includes everyone who lives in that area. Students have a place in and responsibility to the community, and residents have a role in welcoming students to the neighborhood. The church can model the former to students, and introduce students and residents to one another.
Disparate groups are not meant to coexist, in the Fenway or otherwise, but to engage with one another. As God directed the Israelites in Jeremiah 29, so are we to seek the welfare of the city, of the neighborhood, in which we find ourselves. God is already at work in this neighborhood; let us partner with Him as peacemakers to see unity in the Fenway. The church can and must weave itself into the fabric of the community, and help others do the same, with the hope of bringing unity and shalom to the Fenway neighborhood – one step toward seeing unity across Boston.
On the right, Betsy Slate is Director of Community Engagement at Fenway Church