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Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ The Global Neighborhood: World Methodist Conference

What neighborhood, out of all the ones you’ve lived in, has been your favorite?

Was it a quiet small town street lined with tall trees?

Was it a bustling corner of a large, noisy city?

Was it a distant, rural farm, the air scratched with the clucking of chickens?

Was it a small cottage on the edge of the windy sea?

An entire generation of American schoolchildren have had their values formed by a quiet Presbyterian minister who operated a toy trolley: Mr. Rogers’ song was a distinct part of my graham cracker and milk years, the liturgy of the newly potty trained.

Would you be mine, could you be mine,

Won’t you be my neighbor?

Won’t you please? Won’t you please? Please won’t you be my neighbor?

The gentle cardigan-wearing man talked about what it meant to be a good neighbor; what it meant to be a good friend; what it meant to be helpful, to steer through fights, to be kind to people who are different than we are, to tell the truth – all in the context of community and family. And he never neglected the animals, ambling over for the end-of-show ritual of feeding the aquarium full of fish.

I’ve thought a lot about neighbors over the past few days. In a hotel teeming with guests, noises and laughter echo through closed doors, elevators spill with international visitors, the lobby full of global Methodists and American Paralympians on their way to Rio. In this building, we are neighbors. We eat together, we sleep on different sides of shared walls, we meet in common spaces set aside for our communal gathering. Many of the Wesleyan Methodists gathered from over 80 denominations and over 100 countries around the world speak English; not all, but many. For those who do not, a booth of translators was set up along a wall, headsets distributed, so that no one was left out. Songs were sung in multiple languages, and I heard but did not comprehend the words spoken over the communion elements.

Who is my neighbor? 

The elderly couple who lived next door when I was five, they were retired, and while I went on my first journey to visit my grandparents in Michigan by myself the old man died. I still think of that sometimes.

The nurse who worked nights; the only time we saw her was when she was in her backyard, watering plants and smoking or talking on her phone. She kept to herself.

The family who lived behind us when we moved into the parsonage at my first pastoral appointment, they were Baptist, and happily so. I became friends with the wife, she lent me DVD’s over the back fence.

Who is my neighbor?

The AME Zion pastor who waited for an elevator, telling me of his wife who died, of his prayer conference call that he hosts weekly, of his children, of the tears that came during the service.

The Kenyan pastor who works in the slums of Nairobi, desperate to help equip Christians called to ministry, frustrated by recent laws placing restrictions on who is qualified to work as preachers in the country.

The astrophysicist who lives in Maryland and spoke of star formation and Psalm 8, of the majesty of the universe and the glory of God.

The Irish pastor who has served in both Ireland and Northern Ireland – despite their histories and differences.

The bivocational Chinese Australian pastor considering seminary and dreaming about how to increase the impact of connectionalism.

The Nigerian Bishop who spoke of building relationships with area Muslims to work together to protect their children from malaria-bearing mosquitoes.

South Africans and Indians, Americans and Japanese, Brazilians and Irish, Germans and Koreans, Russians and Italians, Pakistanis and Caribbeans and so, so many more lined up to receive communion bread and dip it into blood-red juice. The Body of Christ, indeed.

Being neighbors occasionally means annoyance: it means reestablishing boundaries, asking someone to turn their music down, settling disputes. But while being neighbors isn’t trouble-free, it also doesn’t allow us to insist on isolation. We share this globe, this tilted rock that God called good, and our neighbors are not just those who remember when we were young, or who served with us on the PTA. You are a jet away from the other side of the world: in less than 24 hours you could be present with a friend in need.

Who is my neighbor?

They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love…

They won’t know we are Christians by how easy our relationships are; they won’t know we are Christians by our success; they won’t know we are Christians by our savvy investments; they won’t know we are Christians by our hipster-friendly music.

We are knit together fearfully and wonderfully in the womb of this galaxy, we neighbors, breathing the air of God’s breath as we blink and squall at the startling light of Triune love. We are still newborns learning to recognize the face of our Creator, learning to move through the example of Christ our brother.

How is it that we could refuse the gift of neighbors? Christians need the friendship of the faith.

Who is my neighbor?

Whoever is sitting beside you right now.

Who is my neighbor?

Whoever is part of your life as you walk through it on a daily basis.

Who is my neighbor?

Whoever shares this planet with you, who shares the same moon, the same oceans.

Wasn’t it John Wesley who said, “The world is my neighborhood”?