Written on 07/04/2023
Jesse Kane

Edmonton community initiatives are bridging gaps

Written by Jesse Kane

Moving into a city has been the most isolating, alienating experience of my life. I grew up in the countryside where people lived far away, but when you did see them there was always hot coffee and warm conversation. Since moving to Edmonton, I feel like I’ve exchanged the yellow canola fields that used to separate people with psychological distance.

Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of John 1:14, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood” highlights the significance of the Incarnation, when God took on a human body. This is the God we follow, one who loves His neighbours and moves in next to them, breaking through barriers to be close, no matter the obstacles.

I felt those obstacles even more intensely when I got married and bought a small condo. My neighbours are all crowded together, and there’s tension. A lot of horn-honking, too. Neighbours in the secular cityscape are aliens we guard ourselves from rather than people to love. How do I follow Jesus by loving my neighbours when we all have our guards up?

I was walking around my church neighbourhood one afternoon when God drew my attention to a humble brick building set back in a park with the title Community League. I was not the only one who saw a sea of disconnected people and longed for better. 

Edmonton’s Community Leagues are unique organisations that encourage neighbours to engage, develop, and connect with one another, creating healthy neighbourhoods. I joined as a board member and invested in several committees. I also became involved with Abundant Communities Edmonton (ACE), an organization dedicated to fostering a culture of care, connection, and belonging.

As a block connector for ACE, I reached out to my condo board to organize a block party. To my surprise, others eagerly joined me, including two fellow Christians. We went door-to-door inviting our neighbours and prayed for the neighbourhood together afterward.

These simple gestures have been interwoven with much more. Through the League and ACE, we’ve thrown parties for the whole neighbourhood. We’ve fought human trafficking when larger institutions didn’t show up for a neighbour from Chile. We’ve made the neighbourhood safer by watching out for one another and connecting with the police. We’ve advocated for immigrants and for the development of low-income housing. 

God is at work in my neighbourhood, and He is in yours too. God has provided a social garden for us to enjoy, dwell in, and tend as witnesses to His goodness.

I used to think witnessing meant door-to-door evangelism like a salesman. What I am finding is that it looks a lot more like embracing the neighbours around me and loving them well. 

Organizations like the League and ACE provide tools and frameworks for neighbour-love, but the essence of Christian witness in the neighbourhood is Christ-in-you dwelling next to people and loving them well.

Practically, getting involved in your neighbourhood is simple: Wave to your neighbours. Learn their names. Ask them how their experience in the neighbourhood has been. Plan a block social with others. Develop ways to keep track of people’s names and stories (I can’t be the only one who immediately forgets someone’s name?). When someone needs help, draw people into God’s work by inviting the neighbourhood to embody Jesus and show up for that person.

Getting involved in these civic organisations has transformed my experience of Edmonton from a concrete tundra to a warm community, inhabited by friends to invite in for a warm coffee or tea. And it hasn’t been one-directional.

These neighbourhood friends have been a gift to me. I am not cut off from the people around me. Much to my surprise, my neighbourhood hasn’t been a problem to fix and my neighbours haven’t been dehumanized targets for evangelism—they are fellow image-bearers who tell me a story about God’s goodness and love too.

Neighbouring is more than a fad or a quick-fix to the political division that’s touched even our beloved churches. Evangelicalism was born as a local church movement, and its grassroots nature was what initially made it so effective. Neighbouring takes us back to the heart of Jesus, loving our neighbours!