By Anastasia Howland
“Won’t you be my neighbor?” These words, from the beloved children’s TV show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood—and recent documentary of the same name, served as the theme of this fall semester’s Residence Life training and preparation for new student Welcome Week, August 17-20.
The concept of a neighbor is important to the small Montreat community, as the cove creates a familial bond between all those who live within it. And being a good neighbor is also a core concept for the wider Christian community. Jesus speaks of this idea in what he labels as one of the two greatest commandments: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The Residence Life staff reflected upon this command as they prepared to welcome more than 200 new neighbors to the Montreat cove.
Lyndsey Wall, the resident director for all female housing for the 2018-19 year, suggested during preparation for Welcome Week that to have neighbors you must have three factors at play: place, people, and purpose. I would further suggest that to have any sort of neighbor, only the first two factors are necessary. If you live, work, or even simply walk next to somebody on the street, they are—in this sense—your neighbor.
Welcome Week fostered knowledge of these first two things at Montreat: place and people. Sessions such as the Welcome Service in Anderson Auditorium or the Life at Montreat workshops in Graham Chapel familiarized Montreat’s new neighbors with place: their new neighborhood. Students also gathered in there IS 101 Foundation groups and were given a tour of campus.
These groups participated in team building activities at the Black Mountain Campus. Students also engaged in community building events with their individual residence halls, such as a grill-out night, tie-dyeing t-shirts, or a campus-wide game of Capture the Flag. These activities familiarized students with the second factor central to the existence of having neighbors: people. After these Welcome Week activities, even if students can’t remember whether their new neighbor’s name is Christian or Kristoff, whether they’re from New York or New Mexico, or whether they play basketball or baseball, they’ll remember their exhilarating tag-team to win Capture the Flag, when their new neighbor showed them how to make a swirled tie-dye shirt, or even when their new neighbor fit 7 hotdogs in their mouth at the grill-out. All of these shared experiences—small or silly as they may be—are starting points for deeper relationships with the people who are our neighbors.
The first two, basic factors necessary for having neighbors were certainly showcased during Welcome Week. However, to be a truly good neighbor—that is, to live up to the biblical standard of a neighbor—you must have the third factor: purpose.
But what is meant by “purpose?” Lyndsey Wall suggested “intentionality” as a synonym—creating time and space to connect with one another. But she also suggested something more fundamental. This is not simply the meaning of the word purpose, but the meaning of our purpose within the Christian community. It is a Christian’s purpose among their neighbors: to love, and therefore, by the biblical model, to serve. Welcome Week began with this purpose of loving service, as President Maurer and his wife greeted families at the entrance to campus with smiles and bottles of water. The next morning at the pancake breakfast, President Maurer, Dean of Students Daniel Bennett, as well as other staff members, served the new students their food. This tone of loving, neighborly service continued throughout Welcome Week to the last event: the Praise and Worship Service on Monday night. This is where both first-time and returning students joined as neighbors—as members of the body of Christ—to serve Him joyfully in worship.
This kind of purposeful neighborhood that Welcome Week cultivated among the Montreat community is something I hope continues far beyond Welcome Week, into the rest of the school year, and throughout the time all of us spend with our neighbors in world-wide community.