“Making God’s Welcome Known” Is Not Always Easy
When the blocks around First Church began to transform into the city’s most densely packed residential hub, we all knew that there would be changes to how the neighborhood behaved. The First Church lawn, one of the only green spaces available to many of apartment dwellers nearby, has become a dog park. Every evening, around 6 – 7 pm, a group of twenty to thirty dog walkers coalesce on the grass. Dogs are let off leash, and play time ensues. Terriers, poodles, huskies and mutts run and play, the glorious way that dogs do, while dog owners share treats and conversation. The atmosphere is friendly and often a bit chaotic.
“I wouldn’t know anyone here if it wasn’t for this meet-up,” said Sahar Abi-Hassan, who moved to a nearby apartment building in August with her Staffordshire Terrier, Kaya. “This place has helped me get to know my neighbors – Kaya too,” she said, while Kaya wrestled with Bella, a husky owned by Giorgio Famiglietti, who has been enjoying the First Church lawn for about six months now.
The front lawn is a quarter of an acre, with additional areas planted with roses, camelias, irises, and geraniums, all donated by church members over the years. However, without intervention, the lawn will inevitably go the way of all dog parks – turned into a dusty, muddy, hard packed patch of ground by scampering dog claws. Our guests have destructive tendencies.
“Making God’s Welcome Known” is the First Church mission statement. We adopted this mission as our central focus in 2014. It is a commitment to “God’s welcome,” a concept amply illustrated throughout scripture as extravagant, generous, bold, and hospitable. “This has become a community for me,” said Giorgio Famiglietti, of the congregation of dog owners who assemble here daily. He pointed to the dozen or so other dogs, all of whose names he knew, along with those of their owners. Bella and Kaya continued to wrestle underfoot, on an area of lawn almost entirely de-nuded of actual grass.
Later in the fall, before the rainy season begins, we will be cordoning off a portion of the lawn, to allow it to heal and grow, and hopefully be ready for springtime. Many of the dog owners have expressed an interest in helping with this effort, and putting their own stamp of ownership on a place that is special to them.
If you have an interest in welcoming some of the church’s neighbors, please stop by the campus any evening between 6 and 7 pm. You’ll likely be greeted by Kaya, Bella and their friends, who have already made themselves home.