Very rarely do people open a book, become inspired and put a plan into action, but this is exactly what one Kirkland man did after reading “The Abundant Community” by John McKnight and Peter Block.
Rodney Rutherford said the message behind the book — building communities out of their inherent abundance, as opposed to looking at what they need — was what prompted him to come up with The Neighbor Project.
The project’s mission is to create “a comfortable place for neighbors from all walks of life to come together, share their perspectives, knowledge and gifts.” And it does so by providing a place to drink some coffee, so long as there are volunteers.
The Neighbor Project’s space at Lake Washington United Methodist Church is not central to the provided espresso, puzzles or games but is focused around the people who come to enjoy each other’s company.
“I really challenged myself to think ‘how can we go build a place that extends hospitality to everyone in the community?’” Rutherford said.
How do you build a place that extends hospitality to everyone in the community?
“The Abundant Community” spoke of three criteria to build such a community: Looking at what people’s unique gifts are, the connections through which gifts are exchanged and extended hospitality, meant to draw new people in.
Rutherford hoped to apply this concept to better the community by planting it in a “third place,” a place away from home and work.
The opportunity arose when the Bridle Trails Tully’s coffee house closed this past October. Rutherford said many people in the Rose Hill community were dismayed by the loss of a “community resource” for meeting with people.
“I thought this is my great opportunity,” he said.
But Rutherford switched gears when he discovered Tully’s rental space would have been $3,000 a month. His train of thought shifted to: “I have a full-time job, I can’t create something that quickly …”
But in November, Rutherford heard the news that a group called Camp Unity Eastside, consisting of men and women without permanent housing, would be coming to his church, the Lake Washington United Methodist Church.
“The church here is quite supportive of ways to bring the community together and of connecting those who have with those who do not,” Rutherford said. “I saw Camp Unity as being a resource. They have gifts to share with us as well — one of those is acting as a host to the community to help bring us together.”
Rutherford ordered a coffee machine, gifted it to the church and started to set up the project so that they could officially launch it on Christmas day.
The Neighbor Project has served about 3,500 cups of coffee to date.
“The whole irony behind this is I don’t even like coffee,” Rutherford jokes. “But I understand and I see coffee as a natural way, especially for people in our region, to connect with each other and hang out. It’s a catalyst more than anything else.”
We’re connecting our neighbors and their gifts through radical hospitality.
Church members agree.
“It’s nice to have (a space) that’s not built around a commercial establishment,” said Catherine Smith, a regular host for the project. “Once Camp Unity goes, we’re going to have to work hard to bring in neighbors.”
Camp Unity residents are set to move out in February.
Camp Unity has been providing coffee beans, Rutherford supplies the syrups and, so far, the project has amassed $350 in donations. Rutherford says people don’t need to pay for the coffee but donations are always accepted.
“We are thankful if people are able to pay for what they normally pay for a cup of coffee, but if not, please still come and enjoy a cup with us,” Rutherford said.
Even though The Neighbor Project is still in its infancy, the thought of what it could be is not far from Rutherford’s thoughts. He hopes to build a sustainable model that would keep the project afloat, but also so that it can expand to other churches and organizations. Groups such as Camp Unity or Tent City 4 might also become an impetus for the project as they go from church to church.
“I’d be in favor of trying this every place we go,” said Steve Wiggins, the chief operations officer for Camp Unity. “Each neighborhood has its own flavor, its own personality… whether this will work every place, I don’t know, but I think it’s a good idea to try.”