In a recent article by Dr. Tim Keller called “Lemonade On The Porch: The Gospel In A Post-Christendom Society,” the author noted that years ago the streets of Philadelphia were protected by a “front porch endeavor.” Neighbors would sit on their porches and greet passersby. Children could not get into too much mischief because many eyes were watching them. They also had a sense of security because the porch watchers paid close attention to all activity and offered protection against harm. Dr. Keller sees the porch sitting as a form of hospitality and a bridge between the street and the home. It was also evidence of a caring faith community.
As we have moved into the post-Christian era, the porch presence has gradually disappeared. People are more isolated and less protected. In the past, even in neighborhoods impacted by crime, there were havens on the streets where porch sitting abounded. That layer of protection has dissipated.
There are many in our day who find it difficult to enter the door of a church. Some are antagonistic or skeptical; others lack interest. We lack a modern bridge from the street to the church. Dr. Keller suggests the return of the front porch. This could mean a literal front porch where neighbors can sit and visit and gently share faith. Or it can involve other community outreaches that express faith and community in enriching, life-giving ways. (My faith tradition, the United Methodists, have a similar concept called Fresh Expressions).
Last week I experienced a variation of this loving, neighborly, and family hospitality. My granddaughter was diagnosed with leukemia in June. Her birthday was last Monday, but because of immunity concerns, she is not allowed around large groups of people. My daughter’s sisters-in-law came up with a solution: a drive-by birthday party! A post on Facebook led to media recognition. For twenty minutes last Sunday afternoon, a parade of well-wishers brought cards, gifts, and surprises by the house and waved their greetings. The group included firefighters, motorcyclists, neighbors, family, friends, and kind strangers (including two mermaids and a princess)!
As I consider Dr. Keller’s words, I can think of a variety of ways we can offer 21st century “porches.” I direct a “Grandparent And Me Camp” each summer to offer an intergenerational faith and family experience in a natural environment. A church in a local community distributed popsicles each week during the summer to community residents. Local restaurants offer space for individuals to come and dine and discuss relevant topics related to faith. There are many others.
Dr. Keller noted that often the faith community exhibits one of three responses: 1. isolation, separating oneself or one’s group from an increasingly secularized society, 2. confrontation, berating those who disagree or belligerently trying to impose one’s viewpoint on others or 3. assimilation, compromising views and values to fit in with the culture. I think the most helpful and edifying approach is winsome hospitality. See you on the front porch!