The Art of Neighboring

Stranger, acquaintance, relationship - which one describes you?

Lancaster is a city made up of neighbors, but how well do you know the person who lives next door, if at all?  Do a quick inventory of the houses on your block and note which category they’re in:

Stranger – you wouldn’t recognize them at the grocery store

Acquaintance – you know their name, but maybe just their first name

Relationship – if they needed something, they would reach out to you, and if you needed something, you would ask them for help

The Art of Neighboring is out to put more “relationship” neighbors on your list.

“The U.S. Surgeon General has declared a loneliness epidemic in this country,” observes Johnny Friesner, Lead Pastor of the Lancaster Vineyard Church.  “People are not feeling known or seen, they don’t feel they have people who care about them.” And this has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.  “We have gone from a front porch culture where people spent time with their neighbors in the front of their houses to a back deck culture where people spend time just with family members in their fenced-in back yard.”

In a society where you can go from your home to your garage, get in your car, drive to work, then return in your car, pull into your garage, go into your home, and never interact with the people who live closest to you, it’s no wonder we are surrounded by strangers.  “When the person next door is someone who knows you, knows your name, and knows something about your life, you feel safer, you know that when there is a situation, there is someone nearby who you trust who will help you,” says Johnny.

Inspired by the book, “The Art of Neighboring,” co-authored by Jay Pathak (currently National Director for Vineyard USA), Lancaster Vineyard Church founding pastor, Joel Seymour started to bring churches, non-profits, government leaders, residents, and business owners together on a regular basis about eight years ago to promote and encourage getting to know your neighbors.

A teaching series was held on the Art of Neighboring, and gift cards were offered to support supplies for block parties.  The Art of Neighboring group has had a booth at the Fairfield County Fair to promote neighboring and assisted schools with teacher appreciation activities – writing thank you notes and cards and bringing in donuts and after school supplies – and churches have adopted specific elementary schools, providing extra food, clothing, and supplies for the students.  They also hosted a Graduation Party for high school seniors who weren’t having individual celebrations.

“The meetings are a great place to hear what else is going on in the city – we can’t do it all ourselves, so we need to know about things others are doing that we can support.”  Engaging with your neighbors improves the whole city, lowers crime rates, and creates a better place to live.

“At our food pantry, we see the effects of untreated mental illness, addiction, poverty, and homelessness, and the needs continue to increase,” Johnny notes.  “We want to transform these hardships, but we can’t do that on our own, we need partners.”  The group promotes doing unexpected things for people on Random Acts of Kindness Day (in mid-February) and every day of the year.

“What excites me is people moving to Lancaster and having a greater diversity of people here while cultivating relationships, so the city isn’t just a place to live but is also a home.”

For more on The Art of Neighboring, contact the group administrator, Rod Williams (740) 974-0818 or send Rod an email.

Filed under: Meet Your Neighbors, News
Lynda Berge Disser

By Lynda Berge Disser

Lynda Berge Disser started her community development career in 1991 as director of a non-profit housing organization in an historic neighborhood. She has led training workshops for community-driven housing and commercial development across the country and has written grants that have brought in over $100 million for community development. Lynda currently serves as Director of the City of Lancaster's Community Development Department.