13 August, 2013

Why Your St. Albans Neighborhood Watch Groups Are Hosting Speakers, Block Parties and Other Social Events

A few weeks ago I gave voice to what John and Wilma Kidd, Cheryl Thomas, Shelly Ellis and some of the other neighborhood watch people already knew when I said, "Before we can protect a neighborhood with a neighborhood watch we have to first restore that lost sense of neighborhood." The things that once united us now divide us. Take the once common "neighborhood church". Sunday used to be the day you worshipped with people you already saw all week long because you lived in the same neighborhood. No, you don't know where I'm going with this. I am not going to laud these neighborhood churches nor am I going to decry their disappearance. I'm going to explain how their disappearance has contributed to our citywide loss of the sense of "neighborhood" and "community" we once had.

But first I have to explain what I mean by the disappearance of the neighborhood church because some of my readers will say that they still exist. If by "exist" you mean that such former neighborhood churches as Highlawn Presbyterian, Highlawn Baptist and First Christian still exist, yes, they still exist on paper. And their edifices are still there. But they aren't neighborhood churches anymore. 

Neighborhood churches are churches built to interact with the people who lived within walking distance. This goes back to a time when many families had only one car or no car at all so they walked to church. These neighborhood churches are land=locked, that is, they are closely bordered by residences on all sides and there's nowhere for them to enlarge parking. Some neighborhood churches never had a parking lot because they didn't need one and didn't foresee a time that they would. So, the people who attended these neighborhood churches all lived in the same neighborhood and their common church unified them and gave them a sense of community. 

Many former neighborhood churches are simply closed now, their membership too old and too and too few in numbers to support a pastor and an edifice.

Those that remain aren't neighborhood churches anymore because, as people became more mobile and more independent and could get in their cars and drive to any church they wish, people are now attending churches where they don't live, not churches where they live. In some cases, people actually choose to attend churches outside their own neighborhoods as a way of protecting their privacy from the neighbors. I call this phenomenon "Casual Anonymous Church Among Consenting Adults".There are few secrets for a family that attends church where most of the people in the pews are also neighbors. 

And the neighborhood churches decline and die because they can't "compete" with the almost-mega-churches like Maranatha or Bible Center. This is called the "feeder-receptor phenomenon because the larger churches grow at the expense of the smaller churches.

Some of these former neighborhood churches avoided decline and closure by buying surrounding properties to make parking. One such former neighborhood church that bought itself time and opportunity by buying its neighboring houses is Highlawn Baptist. But while that familiar old neighborhood edifice is still there, Highlawn Baptist isn't a neighborhood church anymore. Highlawn Baptist is now more of a citywide or even regional church because it now has enough parking to accommodate an independent, mobile churchgoer wherever he is.

If you were to go to any of the churches I've mentioned here, you would find that relatively few of their attendees live in the neighborhood. People in the same pew are strangers to each other and won't see or think about each other until next Sunday. 

Similarly, neighborhood schools are gone. When my family moved to St. Albans in 1962 I lived close enough to Parkway Elementary, Highlawn Elementary and Belvil Elementary that attending any of them would have been OK with my parents and I. I was assigned to Belvil. It doesn't exist now. It's part of the high school. Highlawn Elementary is a "sports complex". Parkway Elementary has been torn down and is now a parking lot for a nearby church and a nearby flea market. The newer Alban Elementary now serves as the elementary school for practically the whole east half of St. Albans and most of the kids aren't neighbors to each other which means most of the parents aren't neighbors, either, so, once again, one source of community building - the neighborhood elementary school - is gone.

What do these changes mean for Neighborhood Watch? They mean that we cannot form neighborhood watch groups until we first restore that lost sense of neighborhood we once had. If you're old enough to remember "party lines", e.g., telephone lines shared by 2 or more telephone subscribers, you're old enough to remember when some of St. Albans' neighborhoods still had a sense of unity and cohesiveness, a sense that somehow we're all in this thing together and we have to watch each other's backs. 

That's why you should attend your neighborhood watch block party, ice cream social, cookout or a special speaker series. Your Watch group is trying to get people together, in one place, where they can, perhaps, regain a sense of neighborhood or experience it for the first time. 
HigginbothamAtLarge reads all comments but only PUBLISHES comments from identified commenters. HigginbothamAtLarge, frankly, has no respect whatsoever for people anonymous commenters. There's no Ring of Gyges for me so there's no Ring of Gyges for you.

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