Strengthening Albion one block at a time.

Yesterday’s sermon was about the challenges that face families in Albion. Those include mass incarceration of fathers, a changing economic world, generational poverty, and changes in culture, among other things. After the service, eleven of us gathered for conversation (you should join us next week!). Here’s what we talked about:

Some of us remember a time when if you were a kid or teenager anywhere in town, getting up to no good, a phone call would quickly get to your mom, and you’d hear about it no uncertain terms the moment you arrived home. Not all of us grew up in communities like that, but Albion was one. The best result of this kind of system was that kids grew up knowing that they were accountable. What they did mattered, and had consequences. One of the best things we could do for young people in Albion is to bring back the sense of community that is the foundation of accountability for life.

This is 2016, and there’s probably not a town in America that still has that network of parent communication, at least no town with a population over 100. But what were the key things that would make it possible? Can (or should) we work toward any of them? Some of the prerequisites are not going to come back, especially the time when most mothers are home. Partly because of work, those same moms have less time for knowing the kids in the community, and even less time to know the other adults in the community. It’s impossible in 2016 to demand that every family have two parents, and only one working. That’s not an economic possibility for most families today, and many wouldn’t do it if they could. All of this work and no play–and plenty of TV–means that lots of people don’t know their neighbors. That may be something we can help fix.

Walk down some of the older streets in Albion, and you’ll see lots of houses close to the street, close to one another, and with front porches. Over the decades many of those front porches have been turned into windowed rooms, and many people don’t even use their front doors, because we arrive home in our cars and walk from the driveway into the house through a side door. Once there, we don’t emerge again until the next day, to go to work or school.

It wasn’t always this way. In the days before TV, people sat out on those front porches, and would walk up the block, stopping to visit with their neighbors who were sitting on their own front porches. The kids would play in the street, under the watchful eyes of the neighbors, who would hardly ever intervene. And people knew their neighbors, and their neighbors’ kids.

Let’s not simply be sentimental. Those were not perfect times. We don’t want to go back to McCarthyism and the KKK. We wish we could go back to a time when everyone was home at the same time, and that isn’t going to happen. But we need to take some very low-tech, low-cost steps to strengthen the community among us. It begins with getting to know our neighbors, perhaps by walking up the block and chatting with them. Perhaps that would be helped if we declared a day for strolling up the block, perhaps the first Sunday of every warm month, at 6 p.m. We may have to declare this on Facebook and Twitter to make it happen. But let’s give it a try.

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