When Jennifer and I were looking for a home to buy 20 years ago, we’d narrowed our search to three neighborhoods.  None of them were in the Realtors Top 10. Capital Park, aka “felony flats.” Grant/Highland, aka “the ghetto.” And the Edgewater area of West Salem, aka “the flats.”  (Editor’s Note:  All three nicknames are profane and unjust; they are mentioned here only for historical and contextual purposes.  Please do not use them or tolerate their use—thanks.)

All three areas had proud histories, tree-lined streets and beautiful vintage homes.  All three had fallen on very hard times. Crime. Drug abuse. Domestic violence. Filth and litter. Gangs. Poverty. You could see the despair in people’s eyes … and in the peeling paint on buildings.

We fell in love with all three neighborhoods, but because we were volunteering in the Fantastic Fridays afterschool program at Grant Elementary, we met a recently-widowed neighbor who wanted to sell her Craftsman bungalow to a young family.  The rest is sweet history and we are ever grateful to see the profound changes in our neighborhood and among our diverse neighbors.

Seems like everyone knows about the renaissance in Grant, due mostly to the vivid changes along Broadway.  From used car lots and vacant buildings to a rich, mixed-use district of shops, cinema, restaurants, apartments (both low-income and high-end), Salem Free Clinics and Broadway Com-mons.  But have you noticed the same blossoming of economic and community life along State Street and Edgewater Street? Along with the vibe that’s spilling into the adjacent neighborhoods?

They don’t teach “neighborhood associations” or “community partnership teams” in seminaries or Bible schools.  But these are the vehicles by which God has inspired both people and churches to discover the “Theology of Place” in Salem-Keizer.  It’s amazing to see what happens when ‘people of faith’ (clergy and lay people from all vocations) work with ‘people of goodwill’ (neighbors, teachers, merchants, city staff, case workers, judges, elected officials, folks on the streets) to achieve real solutions to common problems.  Urban planning meets faith in action.

If you want to get a real-time look at the vivid metamorphosis of which I speak, connect with Dwayne Hilty, our West Salem Lightning Rod, whose family lives in “The Edge.”  He co-chairs the Edgewater Partnership, our fourth ‘CPT’ (community partnership team), and volunteers at Walker Middle School. The Dream Center, Boys & Girls Club, CityVibe, Family Promise, Rotary, Urban Grange, and Young Life are among his many alliances.  He ‘lives, works and worships’ in the neighborhood, and he’d love to introduce you to folks who passionately believe in their once-disdained part of town.  Now it’s hot property. Not so much because of its economic value, but because of the testimony it represents.  Transformation of people and place. Shalom!

What’s your Neighborhood?