Our family has decided that we are #frontyardpeople. We are a family who deliberately spends time in our front yard and we welcome others to gather with us.
#Frontyardpeople is not an original idea. Years ago, I came across The Turquoise Table, a book about Kristin Schell’s experience with getting to know her neighbors by way of placing a turquoise picnic table in her front yard and inviting people to hang out.
Whether or not we like it in copious quantities, with many people or with few of them, we are created by God to crave human connection. I, personally, have never been the shy type. I like meeting new people and find joy in connecting people with one another and to resources. As a married couple, we have lived in eight homes in six cities, so introducing myself to new people and knowing what it feels like to be welcomed are well-practiced.
But when and where do we get to know the people in our communities?
In seminary, a world where an annual rotation of new people moves into the community, one of the ways we gathered was “open grill.” Someone offered to get their grill going at the local apartment complex, then everyone would bring something to throw on for their family and a side to share. We’d meet new people, catch up on the latest goings-on on and off campus, and deepen existing relationships. This idea expanded onto seminary grounds as we incorporated a Friday community meal and weekly pause into the busy schedule on campus. In both instances, all were welcome and fed, regardless of what was brought to the communal table.
In our pre-Covid world, time felt like a scarce resource due to the busyness of work, shuttling family between activities, and meeting other obligations. The opportunities to practice casual friendliness (and for our children to learn it) were few and far between. Children are dropped off at practices while we run errands. We wait in the carline at school where we reply to some emails. We can even pick up our groceries in a drive-through and again, miss an opportunity to engage with our neighbors. Our family realized we must deliberately seek out opportunities for connection.
Now the coronavirus stranded many of us at home and sequestered essential workers to limited-contact conditions. Restrictions, designed to safeguard, limit human contact to members of our household and a friendly wave of a neighbor. Our family began craving human connection beyond the beloved children of God with whom we share our home. So, we started spending a fair amount of time playing out front, standing around in the front yard chatting with walkers-by from afar, and watching kids learn to ride bikes in our cul-de-sac. Adding a table to the front yard began to make a lot of sense.
The U.S. government was sending us a check to help cover bills and stimulate the economy, and investing locally seemed like the next right thing. My husband found a gentleman in town who builds picnic tables, and bought* a nine foot one for our front yard.
In the months since the arrival of @theneighborhoodtable, we have celebrated birthdays with long-time neighbors and met new ones. We’ve hydrated the local bicycle gang on the daily, gathered with our “double-the-bubble” family, met some of our city employees, and waved at a few more new friends. We have offered up our driveway to food trucks delivering neighborhood pre-orders and offering socially-distant food service to those looking to dine out but not yet ready to venture out too far. These opportunities to engage animate the freeze-frame images on Nextdoor or neighborhood Facebook posts.
Decades ago, my husband and I took the Alpha Course, and there was an expectation to keep a perpetually open chair, so there was always room for someone to join. That’s part of what drives how we operate as #frontyardpeople. If there’s water, we make sure there are more than enough glasses. Ice cream? Extra bowls. If the table is full, we have camping chairs handy. Rule #2 in our house is Welcome Others, and this is one way we model it for our boys.
Being #frontyardpeople can look lots of ways. For us, it’s a picnic table and a purposeful spirit of friendliness and generosity. One friend works out of his garage that faces the street, enabling him to welcome and greet passers-by. Another friend with plenty of land but not much of a front yard, built a chapel and theological library, welcoming others to his home. Little Free Libraries are another way to welcome and share life with others. We’ve seen people meet neighbors and share their gifts via apartment balconies all over the world.
How do you model welcome and deliberately seek your neighbor in these stay-at-home times?
* Upon sharing with others on social media about the purchase of the table, Episcopal Evangelism Society awarded our family a spot grant to cover the cost of the table. We are grateful for their support of our neighborly and evangelistic efforts. You can follow the stories around @theneighborhoodtable on Instagram.