Many of us have lived in our neighborhoods for years without really knowing or interacting with our neighbors. What better way to share the love of Jesus with those on our doorstep than offering a simple invitation? Here Sue Donaldson shares 12 easy steps to hosting a neighborhood coffee, and two delicious recipes to get you started.
Whether you have lived in your neighborhood for 10 years or 10 months, you may not know your neighbors very well at all. It’s a pity. I’ve found that people are lonely. I’ve been that person who is lonely. And one thing that’s helped me with my feelings of isolation as well as helping me discover that others share those same feelings, is taking the plunge and inviting the neighborhood for coffee.
It’s a wide net to invite the whole neighborhood and not everyone says “yes,” either because they can’t make it or they don’t feel comfortable. I can relate to that. I don’t always feel comfortable doing the inviting, but I’ve experienced the rewards of a stranger becoming an acquaintance and an acquaintance becoming a friend.
THE WHY BEHIND LOVING YOUR NEIGHBOR
When did it become okay to accept this isolation and the seemingly univeral understanding that it’s okay to wave to someone without actually knowing their name? (As well as the horrifying realization that at one point you did ask their name but have no idea what that name was nor which house it belonged to.)
Jesus was asked, “‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:36-39).
To love our neighbor is on par with loving God, according to Jesus. And even those who don’t purport to know or believe in God still understand the value of good old-fashioned neighborliness. We’re polite people, in the main, but we allow or even erect invisible borders that keep us from loving our neighbors well.
A few ideas
If you garden, you might greet someone out walking their dog on a chilly morning while you’re checking your plants for frost. If that someone is especially chatty, they may even pause for a short discussion of frost and weather and what their mother did to keep her plants alive, and then go on their way. Not, of course, if they have air pods in their ears and don’t even notice you digging away out in front of your house .
If you’re the dog owner, you may be the one to wave and smile while commuters drive into their driveways and then into their garages. Automatic garage door openers and mobile-listening options, although genius and convenient, have single handedly taken the neighborliness out of the neighborhood.
And then there’s the awkwardness of trying to be friendly when your real friends live further away and the longer you wait to get acquainted with the person you’ve lived across the street from for five years, the more awkward it feels. So awkward, in fact, you find yourself waiting to get out of your car while someone walks by just so you don’t have to say something banal or insincere.
As a friendly extrovert in the main, I’ve been that person sitting in my car hoping that the people walking by think that I’m listening intently to my daughter on speaker phone instead of just waiting for them to move on past. What part of “love your neighbor as yourself’” does that come under? None that I can think of. If you can relate to the drama of pretending I didn’t see you, maybe it’s time to throw that neighborhood coffee. (And, it may be time for me to do it again).
HOW TO HOST A NEIGHBORHOOD COFFEE
We have 90 homes in our immediate neighborhood, and one organized neighbor has taken on the job of collecting everyone’s email. You may want to be that organized neighbor, and begin a list. Try going door-to-door bearing gifts like a Ziploc of cookies or muffins as you ask for their contact information. I know, it feels weird. But the longer I’ve waited, the stranger it’s become. And most times, people don’t mind being asked for their name a second or third time. In fact, they are relieved since they don’t recall yours, either.
When ready to plan your neighborhood coffee, resist the urge to make your event elaborate or over-the-top expensive. Hospitality doesn’t have to be elaborate to be effective. If you wear yourself out doing unnecessary things, you will be so relieved when it’s over and will never attempt it again! Your exhaustion is not the point.
Ask God to help you do things how He’d like them done, even if your mother or Pinterest does it differently. You may want to invite another neighbor to help you co-host for some added boost of confidence as well as a practical way to share the load of planning and execution. My neighbors Katie and Pat have helped me pass around the invitations on their daily walks. Others offer to bring egg bakes or fruit plates. And dear Roberta often stays afterwards to help with the clean-up.
You don’t need an excuse or a holiday to invite people in—in fact, it may be simpler not to do an event during the busy holiday season. We never need an excuse or reason to love our neighbor well, and these simple steps have helped me do a better job of it.
12 SIMPLE STEPS TO GET STARTED
Invite your neighbors by email or with a simple printed invitation placed on their porch. Include your contact information to make it easy for them to reply.
Ask each guest to bring a favorite mug or teacup. It gives the shy person something to hold in their hands when they come into your home, as well as provide a topic of conversation.
If someone offers to bring a food item or flowers, say, “Yes—what would you like to bring?” It makes them feel special, and can be a big help, even if it’s something simple like ice or half-and-half.
If you invite a crowd, provide name tags. Assign the person who comes early to make sure everyone gets one. A sign-up list to pass around to provide personal contact information can be helpful for future events.
Have decaf coffee and tea at-the-ready for those non-caffeine friends. And ice water is always appreciated.
Light a candle or several, right before everyone arrives. Candlelight, even during the day, makes even a party of two a special occasion.
Keep a box of toys handy that you can access quickly when a small one needs some entertainment. Or, when it’s a Saturday or holiday, hire a teenager to play with the little ones in the next room to give the moms a needed break.
Anything you can make or do the day before, do it. I’ve even mixed the dry ingredients for a recipe in advance to save time and stress in the morning.
When baking, double the recipe and freeze half for your next coffee (yes, you will do it again if you keep it simple).
Ask a friend to help greet, lead guests to the coffee, and introduce them to another guest so no one is kept wondering how to fit in and feel comfortable.
After your guests get their coffee and muffin, ask each one to share how long they’ve lived here, where they came from, their favorite pastime, or best vacation story—anything to get better acquainted and establish beginner connections.
Pray over each person before they arrive. Ask God for His supernatural love for them. And again, after they leave while you clean up, pray that they would begin to know how much God loves them.
TWO SIMPLE COFFEE TIME RECIPES
Café Beaujolais Buttermilk Cinnamon Coffee Cake
- 2 ¼ Cups Flour
- 1 Cup Brown Sugar
- ¾ Cup Granulated Sugar
- 2 Teaspoons Cinnamon, divided
- ½ Teaspoon Salt
- ¼ Teaspoon Ground Ginger
- ¾ Cup Oil
- 1 Cup Sliced Almonds
- 1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
- 1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
- 1 Egg
- 1 Cup Buttermilk
- Mix flour, brown sugar, granulated sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, salt, and ginger. Blend in oil until smooth.
- In the meantime, make your own buttermilk (if necessary). Add 1 teaspoon of vinegar to a cup of milk and let set for a few minutes.
- Remove ¾ cup of the flour mixture and combine it with almonds and the remaining 1 teaspoon of cinnamon. Mix and set aside.
- To the remaining flour mixture, add baking powder, baking soda, egg, and buttermilk. Blend until smooth.
- Spoon into a buttered 9×13 inch pan and then spread over nut topping. Press lightly with fingers.
- Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. Makes 12 servings (or more!).
Deb’s Mini-Chocolate Chip Scones
- 2 Cups Flour
- ¼ Cup Granulated Sugar
- ½ Teaspoon Salt
- ¾ Cup Chocolate Chips
- 1 Cup Whipping Cream (add a little more if dough is dry)
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
- In bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add chocolate chips. Blend in whipping cream with a fork, adding extra if needed.
- When mixed, turn out onto a floured surface and knead several times. Divide dough into two.
- Pat each into a circle, approx. 6 inches in diameter, and cut into 8 wedges. Bake on parchment-lined cookie sheet for 12-13 minutes.
- Makes 16 scones.
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