The road was quite bumpy at the beginning of the development process. New things are hard; they compete with ideas about stability. Navigating the presbytery was difficult enough. However, there were other systems we had to navigate as well.
Several months after we initiated our plan to build affordable housing we struck another bump in the road. We received word that some people in the congregation sought to have our building designated an historic site.
Jill Norcross, our project manager, was instrumental in helping us navigate the Arlington County Historic Affairs and Landmark Review Board (HALRB). Thankfully, this wasn’t the first time she’d run across this kind of opposition.
In an interview, she remarked that there is a lot of pain in these decisions for people who can’t let go. Often, they try whatever means they can to maintain the status quo. In some communities churches are viewed as drive-by public spaces. The neighbors may never attend but feel as though they have a right to say what happens to the buildings.
In this case a few current members who lived in the neighborhood tried to stop the project from moving forward. They gathered enough support to petition HALRB and hold a hearing. As we were navigating one system, the presbytery, we found ourselves navigating another, Arlington County.
It’s important to note that we are always navigating multiple spaces and systems. There’s the internal system of the congregation; there’s the systems and structures of the presbytery (or other denominational bodies); then, there’s the neighborhoods, towns, counties, and cities where we live.
We don’t make decisions alone as a church, we make decisions as a neighbor. When we are connected to and in relationship with the people who lead and govern, navigating the systems becomes easier. It doesn’t mean that we always get what we want. Rather, through relationships we are heard and seen which allows for a greater chance to serve and bring about change.
Being a good neighbor has little to do with what we do for the community. It’s more about what we do with the community. It’s a call and response relationship, not a pulpit and pew relationship. When we are in good relationships with our neighborhoods there’s a better chance of dialogue when it comes time for change.
Thankfully, with the help of Jill and much of the work we’d done in the community there was a lot of support for our development project. On the night of our hearing, the place was packed with supporters.
These were people in the community, the congregation, and from all over who supported what we were trying to do. There were ministers from local and far-away places who already made similar changes or were thinking about it. There were neighbors who saw the need and the opportunity. We outnumbered our detractors.
In the end, HALRB voted against designating the APC building as historic. All the work we’d done by walking the neighborhood, listening to our neighbors, and conducting relational meetings with key people paid off. Once this bump was cleared we were able to refocus our energies on getting things through the presbytery commissions and leadership.