February 22, 2012

It's Party Time

It seemed like a crazy idea, inviting people we didn’t even know to come to a party at our house. Well, we did know Gary, Margaret, and their son, Gary, Jr., next door, and we had spoken a few times to Dale and Carol, the neighbors across the street, but that was about it.
Since Christmas is a natural time for parties, my husband and I decided it would be an ideal opportunity to get to know the neighbors better by welcoming them into our home. We set the date for Sunday, December 18, at 5:00 p.m.
On a Sabbath afternoon in early December, Clinton and I, along with our 14-year-old daughter, Heather, sat at our dining room table with paper, ribbons, scissors, and glue, making simple invitations. Then we went up and down the street knocking on doors and handing out our homemade invitations.
2012 1506 page31“Hi! We’re your neighbors from down the street, and we’d like to invite you to a Christmas party at our house,” we said to the astonished faces of the neighbors. But from door to door, the response was always the same—astonishment turned into smiles as they looked at the invitation and exclaimed, “What a nice idea! We’ll be there.”
One 93-year-old neighbor, “Dot,” was particularly delighted. “We used to get together in each other’s homes years ago in this neighborhood,” she recalled, “but we don’t do that anymore.” Then she asked if she could bring a friend!
After passing out the invitations, I began to panic. Would they like our vegetarian food? What would they think about no alcohol being served? Would they feel comfortable in our home?
Our family prayed earnestly, the house was cleaned, food prepared, nonalcoholic drinks readied, table set. The doorbell rang, and we were ready to have a great time.
Michel and Barbara were our first guests. Having just recently moved to the area, they were happy to meet new people. Barbara was a music professor at the University of Maryland, and Michel, recently arrived from France, was retired. As I offered the couple drinks, describing the mixture of white grape and peach juices, Barbara interrupted me, asking if that was all that was in it? Instantly I wondered to myself if they were disappointed there was no wine available. However, I didn’t have long to mull over it as she continued, “because Michel and I have given up drinking alcohol.” Relieved, I assured her that no alcohol was served in our house.
The house became a little crowded as more and more guests arrived, but no one seemed uncomfortable. The conversational noise level in the living room continued to rise as we enjoyed getting to know our neighbors, and they seemed to be having a great time becoming acquainted with each other.  Downstairs in the family room our 20-year-old son, Daniel, home from college, along with his sister Heather, entertained the younger guests.
“Your food is delicious!” “That juice is really nice!” were comments we frequently heard as people made their way back to the dining room and kitchen, where they helped themselves.
At the end of the evening, as the guests began to leave, we smiled as we were thanked many times “for hosting this party,” and were told that we’d have to get together again sometime. But for me, one of the most memorable comments was “I’m so glad that you came to my door with an invitation.”
I’m glad too. And I want to keep those invitations coming—I really want to get to know my neighbors, and I want them to get to know me. I want to build trusting, caring relationships. And someday I want to invite them to become acquainted with my Best Friend, who has taught us what it means to be a good neighbor.
Gina Wahlen is assistant to the editor/publisher of Adventist Review. This article was published February 23, 2012.