Sometimes, we hold maps in our heads that are misleading rather than providing the orientation we need. Such is the case with the map that defines New Brunswick as the city to which most of our members commute from the suburbs.
Oh, this map can yield funny results! How often in the past have we encountered the need to justify ourselves against the charge that we do not really represent the community in which our church is built. This is a serious charge, and we should not dismiss it. The more the surrounding community is reflected in the faces of our worshipping congregation, the more complete our worship will be. For this reason, our ministry values diversity and inclusiveness.
However, the distinction between inner city and suburb itself may have to be updated. It originated from a time when the inner city was ugly and the suburbs safe. This has changed considerably. Consequently, our inner map can be redrawn.
Today, New Brunswick is in many ways the cultural and administrative center of all the surrounding suburbs. In the past, people used to come here for mainly three reasons: the hospitals, work, or social services. But this has changed dramatically. Today, there is a plethora of restaurants, concerts, theaters and open air events. New neighborhoods have emerged with an entirely new scene of art and music. I would venture to say that the city’ consumption of electricity is much higher during the weekends than during normal work days.
What does this mean for us as a church? Foremost it means that we have to draw a wider radius in what we call “our community”. It may not be very helpful any more to emphasize too much the border that separates the city from the suburbs. Instead, the city has become the central place where much of the suburbs’ cultural life takes place. We still have the obligation of serving our immediate neighborhoods to the best of our capabilities. And we do so with much of our social outreach.
However, this does not mean that we should not also direct some of our outreach into the suburb communities from where many of our members come. The field to plow is bigger than we sometimes think.