Top 10 Ways to Cultivate a Parish Imagination in the Place You Live

by Mark Votava


Over the last ten years I have been cultivating relational connection in the place I live in Downtown Tacoma, Washington.  This place has shaped me tremendously.  I dream of a parish imagination where neighbors have a passion for collaboration, living locally and investing their lives to care for the place they live.  Here are 10 ways I think we can cultivate a parish imagination in our context:

1. Become rooted and live in a particular neighborhood for decades.  Rootedness is so difficult in a world where many of us are affluent in the West and have many options to move to a better neighborhood where we have more economic opportunity, a better living environment or feel safer.  Upward mobility is one of the greatest sins of the church.  We can only love our neighbors if we stay rooted in a place long enough to know them.  This is essential to create a parish imagination in the particular place we live in the world.

Wendell Berry states in his book Imagination in Place, “By means of the imagined place, over the last fifty years, I have learned to see my native landscape and neighborhood as a place unique in the world, a work of God, possessed of an inherent sanctity that mocks any human valuation that can be put upon it…”

2. Build a sense of social capital with neighbors.  We need collaboration not competition.  Collaboration builds trust or social capital with others where we live.  Collaboration builds a more peaceful world for the common good.

3. Find and celebrate the assets that exists in your local community.  Let’s stop focusing on all the problems in our neighborhoods and start looking for the assets.  What are the beautiful things happening in this place where we can build some collaboration around and learn to work for the common good together.  Every local community has its own particular assets.  We need to discover them and celebrate them.

4. Learn to listen to others.  Listening is so important when we think about collaboration with others.  We need to live with a learning posture that listens deeply to others.  Let’s stop imposing our views on others and start to embody some humility, vulnerability and compassion through listening.

5. Experiment with ways to eat together in everyday life.  Eating together is so subversive.  It centers our lives around a table that brings us together through our commonality of hunger.  Whether we are rich, poor or middle class the act of eating together makes us all equal and binds us together as neighbors in the world.

6. Practice hospitality.  Hospitality is the work of authentic social justice in the place we live.  We need to share our lives, tables and homes with the less fortunate.  Jesus was the master of creating environments of hospitality for others with his openness to love, compassion and empathy with his neighbors.

7. Value others as created in the image of God.  Everyone needs love, value and respect no matter who they are.  Let’s stop looking at others as “sinners” and start looking at others as created in the image of God.  This would change how we treat others in our lives.

8. Participate and contribute to the local economy.  Contributing to the local economy is so essential to create a parish imagination among us.  Whether we are starting a local business or just supporting the local economy by trying to keep our money in the community, this does a lot to build social capital and faithful presence.  We need to think local when it comes to how we are spending our money.

9. Access the sidewalks and walk more.  Cars have become a luxury that we possess because we do not see the need to live locally anymore.  Walking is so unique to our time in a world of hypermobility.  But walking is so healthy and helps us to get in touch with our bodies in the place we live.

10. Share stories about your neighborhood.  We have a story, our place has a story and God has a story.  These need to be intertwined into a narrative braid where we share stories of assets working together, characters who are contributing to the common good and the work of the spirit within us.  Storytelling could help us to have an imagination for community in the place we live.

What is a way you’re cultivating a parish imagination in the place you live?