How my neighbourhood welcomed 2021

Written by Natalie Frisk

If there has ever been a time where we needed joy to break through our bleak days, it is now.

This pandemic, politics, and many perpetual problems seem to plague us. The Apostle Paul knew much of our discomfort and pain. In fact, due to politics and persecution, he found himself imprisoned.

Despite his problems, he wrote to the Philippian church from prison, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).

Oh, Paul. You make it sound easy, but we know it’s not. Still, it can become a practice. And not a “put on a happy face” fake kind of joy, either. Instead, let’s look for things to be thankful for and find joy in them, giving praise and thanks.

I think we’ve been under a false assumption (or maybe it was just me?) that joy cannot coexist with pain or sorrow. But this is untrue.

There’s room for both to live together. And while we live in this bizarre, painful, frustrating time, we can also find joy.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas 2020, the church where I pastor, The Meeting House, ran with an idea in several parishes. We dubbed it “Joy to the Street.” The idea was to find intentional ways to bring joy to our neighbourhoods directly.

In our Ottawa parish, lead pastor Eric Versluis led an online family trivia night for his neighbours with about 25 adults and kids participating. In other parishes, people took to writing many more Christmas cards than usual, sharing a word of hope and joy with their neighbours—emphasizing elderly individuals and those living alone.

In other parishes, people baked cookies to deliver to their neighbours. Oakville pastor Karmyn Bokma made some fun packs to deliver to her neighbours. A bunch of neighbours stood on the ends of their driveways singing Christmas carols together.

There were so many great suggestions given to our community: create a neighbourhood ice rink, have a snowman building contest, walk around your neighbourhood at night and pray while you view the lights.

Unfortunately, because of changing regulations, some well-made plans had to be cancelled. This is the reality we have come to know and grieve. But it does not stop us from having hope and doing what we can when we can.

I’ll be honest, I kept feeling like I couldn’t do anything to bring “joy to the streets.” A back injury prevented me from doing much.

Then my nine-year-old daughter had a wonderful idea. She wanted to create party bags for the neighbourhood kids for New Year’s Eve. We grabbed large brown paper bags and filled them with microwave popcorn, hot chocolate, glow sticks, candies, and stickers. She delivered them to neighbourhood kids.

And that sparked something else: another neighbour with a young child delivered sparklers to all of these same kids. And then a text was sent through these families: 7 p.m. outside we’ll light up the sparklers and play some music!

And so, we marked the beginning of 2021 in our neighbourhood with kids literally dancing in the streets, dressed in glowsticks, and waving their sparklers. After one of the worst years in the last few decades, our street was filled with joy as it ended.

Joy to the Streets may or may not have had the massive ripple effects we hoped. But I can tell you, it had ripple effects on one Ontario street, and it sure had ripple effects in this pastor’s heart.