BY TODD THOMASON — One thing I am giving thanks for this Thanksgiving is the gift of community. Living in relation to others (be it in the same house, office or town) can be a challenge, but it’s also a blessing.
I was recently reminded of what a true blessing community can be on the Sunday after Hurricane Irene blew through. I spent much of that day sitting on the “front porch” of First Baptist Church. A tree had fallen across 42nd Avenue and blocked the entrance to the church’s parking lot, so we had cancelled morning worship.
But my family and I were without power at home, so we brought our twin toddlers over to the church (which, somehow, did have power). That afternoon, there was an amazing calm after the storm: The air was as fresh as a mountain breeze, the skies cleared, the sun came out — and so did the people of Hyattsville.
Of all my memories of that day, the faces and voices of our community stand out most vividly. People were out walking the sidewalks and talking in their front yards. I met neighbors with whom I had never crossed paths. Passers-by waved, and friends and strangers alike stopped to discuss their hurricane adventures.
I invited the folks across the street who were in the dark to come inside the church to charge their cell phones, enjoy a cup of coffee, use the microwave or anything else our live circuits could provide. But I was hardly the only person offering assistance. It was a wonderful display of community at its best.
Then the lights came back on and we all went back inside, and back to our narrower, more familiar life patterns — patterns that, however unintentionally, often keep us apart.
I think this is especially true in a city as diverse as Hyattsville. Much has changed for the better in the last few decades, but we still face many of the familiar obstacles to social harmony. These include the differing priorities and expectations of different generations, new ideas clashing with longstanding traditions, and the wedge issues of our wider culture: wealth, political affliation, religion, education, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation.
That said, I also think Hyattsville is heading in a healthy direction. The Arts District has generated space not only to eat and shop but also for the city to gather and interact. For example, A.C.T.O.R. (A Continuing Talk on Race) series at Busboys & Poets is creating opportunity for dialogue about issues central to the health and well-being of a diverse community. I’m proud to be a part of it.
There is great potential for everyday Hyattsville to look a lot like post-Irene Hyattsville. The key is for all of us to take advantage of these opportunities, to get out and get involved. One thing I’ve learned about community in my years as a pastor is that its creation and maintenance must be intentional. Passivity can create division as easily as prejudice.
Perhaps we might think about designating a “post-hurricane” afternoon for ourselves once a month: a time to unplug, take a walk, gather in the yard, share our experiences and lend a hand to whomever we happen to meet.
For my part, I plan to spend a few more Sunday afternoons on the “front porch” of the church when the weather is nice. I hope to see you around.
Todd Thomason is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Hyattsville.