(the following blog post was written for the Yale Institute of Music Congregations Project blog)
As this year’s Congregations Project progresses, themes of storytelling in the community keep rising to the fore. After a long day of listening, ending in food and music for the soul at Dixwell Congregational Church, I couldn’t help but think of front porch culture. Perhaps we could think of front porches as the old Facebook – a place to debrief the day, share stories, and build community. But this old image of American culture was not just for family and friends; it was also a way to keep an eye on the neighborhood, to welcome the stranger, and to witness cultural change. As grandparents and parents and children passed time together on the porch, stories could be shared between generations, weaving together a family narrative filled with both humility and pride.
What if our churches had front porches? Who would gather there and what stories would be told? What change would we see in the neighborhood and how would we articulate it? What things would we hold on to, and what would we be willing to change? What parts of our history would we find value in, and how would we share it with our children? What strangers would we invite in, with what songs and what food?
Architect Davida Rochlin describes the front porch as “an unassigned part of the house that belonged to everyone and no one.” We forget that, similarly, the church is for all of us and at the same time is not ours at all. Rather, it is a gathering place given for us to develop and share our front porch testimonies. We are called to find our own voices in words and song and to sing them in rich harmony with passersby. And when someone doesn’t know the song, we get to teach it and ask them to share a song with us in return. Praise God for sweet humming, rocking chairs, and home-cooked hospitality!