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Making Friends in Your Neighborhood w/ Anne Stapleton

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In this episode, Cara Garrity interviews Pastor Anne Stapleton. Together they discuss the best practice of Making Friends in Your Neighborhood.

“When you’re friends, you do stuff together. And then eventually, they’ll say, ‘What do you for a living?’ or ‘Why do you act the way you do?’ Then they’ll be more interested in finding out about you. And you can invite them to church, or you can feel natural inviting them to a church picnic, potluck, or even a church service. If you really want to get to know them and find the things that they are longing for, and if they are longing for more people like you that are friendly and nonjudgmental, then invite them to meet some of your friend from church. See where God takes it.”

Anne Stapleton, GCI Pastor in Lemon Grove, California

Main Points:

Today we’ll be diving into the Love Avenue practice of making friends.

  • “Making friends” sounds kind of elementary but is deeper, and often harder, than it sounds. Why is making friends a key practice of the Love Avenue? (4:37)
  • What can it look like to develop both members’ individual relationship building as well as corporate efforts to connect with people in the neighborhood? (14:40)
  • How can making friends in the neighborhood shape the ministries or activities of the Love Avenue? (29:25)



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Program Transcript

Making Friends in Your Neighborhood w/ Anne Stapleton

Welcome to the GC Podcast, a podcast to help you develop into the healthiest ministry leader you can be by sharing practical ministry experience. Here are your hosts, Cara Garrity and Christianna Doele.

Cara: Hello all, and welcome to the GC Podcast. Christianna, here in the U.S. (where we are located) it is summertime.

What is one of your favorite things about the summer?

Christianna: I think the biggest thing is having the chance to travel. I feel like you don’t always have the chance to do that during the year. And I just love getting to take the time off and visit family or see friends and make some great memories along the way. That’s definitely a highlight of the summer.

Cara: Yes. I love that. One of my favorite things is pretty similar. Summer feels like a fun time of the year. There’s extra daylight time to get to hang out with people and to do those activities. And it makes me think of what we’ll be talking about on the podcast today.

We’ll be hearing from pastor Anne Stapleton about making friends as a key rhythm of the Love Avenue. So, what is something that characterizes a meaningful friendship for you, Christianna?

Christianna: I think caring is one of the biggest things that characterizes meaningful friendships to me—being invested and supporting and encouraging and caring for each other through the day-to-day challenges and those big moments in life too. I think it’s really central to the friendships that I have and that I hope to continue developing. So caring is really a foundation of good friendships and meaningful friendships.

Cara: Amen. Amen. Let’s go ahead and hear what Pastor Anne has to share with us.

Cara: Hello, friends and welcome to today’s episode of GC Podcast. This podcast is devoted to exploring best ministry practices in the context of Grace Communion International churches. I’m your host, Cara Garrity.

And today I am blessed to interview Pastor Anne Stapleton. Anne and her husband have been pastoring, just a few miles east of San Diego, California for over 20 years. This is where they raised their two children who are now young adults. And it’s where they’ve planted their roots into a local community. Anne loves people, enjoys organic gardening, and a good true crime show or podcast, and is passionate about building healthy community in the neighborhood of Lemon Grove.

Pastor Anne, thank you so much for joining the pod.

Anne: Oh, thank you for having me.

Cara: It’s a joy to have you! Before we go ahead and get started, I’d love to know what are you celebrating these days?

Anne: What am I celebrating? I am celebrating—a couple of days away from celebrating 32 ½ years of being married to my best friend, Mark.

I’m celebrating the birth of our newest Cornerstone member. His name is Leo Alexander Liev and he’s six weeks old and has just absolutely captivated my heart and getting me ready to be a grandmother one day down the road. I guess I’m—really what captivates my mind most of my waking moments is I’m really celebrating our congregation being in the liminal space, which basically just means we’re in between things.

And we’re in this in-between time—between what we’ve been doing and a big vision that God’s given us for our community. And I think about it all the time. Our congregation chooses one word to focus on at the beginning of each year. And this year, our word is “prepare,” and I really feel like 2022 is a year of preparation for us of getting outside of our comfort zone and being right in the middle of our community, reaching them relationally with the love of Jesus.

So, I’m excited to see how it’s all gonna come together. And I think I celebrate that every day.

Cara: Amen. Amen. I am so excited to see what God has in store for you all. And I love this idea of liminal space. So, thank you for sharing those celebrations with us. And today we’re going to be diving deeper into the Love Avenue practice of making friends.

I just want to get started, Anne, with asking you, making friends sounds like elementary, right? It’s something that we tell preschoolers to do, “Go make friends today.” But I think it’s deeper and often even harder than it sounds. So why is making friends a key practice of the Love Avenue?

Anne: Why is making friends keep practice? I guess I would say at the very core, it’s obvious. It’s because God is a relationship, and God’s economy is relationships. I say this all the time at our church—God is not about gold or money or things. He’s all about relationships and has existed eternally in relationship.

I think friendship is probably one of the best expressions of relationship. Even in a good marriage, you have to be friends. And I’ve been thinking—I’m glad you asked this question because I’ve been thinking a lot about how friendships have been affected by this pandemic. And in reaching out to our local communities, the studies are showing that the isolation that we’ve endured over the past two years has a lot of people really starving for friendships and authentic connection.

Also, you think about how friendships have been tested, relationships have been tested because people are disagreeing about so many things, right? Disagreements over politics, over justice issues, over the response to this COVID-19 thing that we’ve all been cursed with. And I guess the question really, when you’re thinking about a Love Avenue and meeting new people and sharing God’s love and the gospel with people, is: how can we be friends with people that believe differently than us?

I think that’s a key question when you’re talking about outreach and mission is earning people’s trust, right? Because people don’t trust very easily anymore. And if they think you’re just befriending them so you can get them to do something for yourself, like a selfish motive, or even try to get them to believe differently or do something differently, people don’t trust that. And I think we must, must, must learn how to love and befriend people who are different than us, and allow the Holy Spirit to find that common ground and allow the Holy Spirit to lead them to a place of hearing the gospel. But it starts with trusting relationships, absolutely.

Cara: And I love what you say about relationships being God’s economy because even when I think about this idea of making friends, I think about our God is a triune God. So, making friends is not just some pithy little thing that we say to kids as we send them off to school.

But it’s essential to who God is and who he’s created us to be. So, when you bring it back to, what does this mean in real life to be who God has created his people to be, we have to confront those questions. What does it mean to be friends with people who are not like us? That’s when it really gets to that depth and that difficulty where we have to wrestle with that.

I thank you for posing that challenging question. I think that’s really when the rubber hits the road, so to say, about what it means to participate in the person of God.

I wonder, what has it looked like for your church community to make friends in your neighborhood and what challenges and blessings have you encountered as you’ve done that?

Anne: I think for everybody right now, the biggest challenges is COVID, of course. It’s like, how do you go out in an environment where loving people means not getting too close to them or wearing a mask and you can’t see their expressions on their face? But thinking pre-COVID?

Let’s see, a couple of challenges come to mind just being a local church pastor of a smaller church. And that is that it just seems like finding connecting points for people to meet new people. I think when we’re kids (like you were talking about being friends), it’s so easy for kids to make friends. They go out on the playground. It’s proximity. They’re friends with everybody on the playground, right?

I think as we get older and we get more comfortable in our routines, it’s hard to find new people to make friends with. I just think that is one of the biggest challenges. Let’s say all of our friends are Christians, and we run in Christian circles, and we just don’t know anybody new, besides maybe meeting our neighbors on the right and the left of us wherever we live or in an apartment. I think that’s probably one of the greatest challenges is finding connecting points to build relationships that are natural and not awkward. And don’t feel forced. You’re not walking down the street, handing out tracks, you know what I’m saying?

I think you asked I think you asked how we’ve encountered, how we’ve handled it.

Cara: Yeah. What does it look like for you?

Anne: For us, one thing that we’ve tried to do in our community is, first of all, just to be present. We just show up to stuff, even if it might feel a little uncomfortable.

And we try to be generous. Probably at least a decade, we’ve done a dozen free yard sales, where we just give away stuff. And that puts you in a stance of generosity and just trying to bless people. And it makes people curious. And so, it strikes up conversations.

Before COVID, we started something at the local farmer’s market called “The Give It Away Project.” And, it was like a free yard sale, but it was every week. We set up two booths, and we would just give away clothes. We would collect donations and people loved giving stuff to us to donate, and then we would donate stuff out.

We’d always have people come and go, why are you doing this? What do you mean it’s free? Why is it free? And we would just—it gave us permission to have wonderful conversations with people. For our church, it gave some of our senior members, who are pretty much at home all the time and had just have a couple close friends, [a chance] to get out and meet people of all ages and have conversations and just share God’s love.

It wasn’t like they were trying to sell anything or get people to even come to our church. It was just a way for them to start building relationships with people. And we did see people coming back every week and them knowing our names and we’d know their names. And then we’d see them other places in our community. We go to other events and set up booths and just give stuff away.

Right now, during the pandemic, we’ve been picking up trash every Tuesday at 7:00 a.m., going around and picking up trash and meeting a totally different element of community, a lot of unsheltered people, people that have been outside all night. We get to see them when we’re out picking up trash, and we’ve invited city council members to come. They’re coming out and helping us.

And so, we’re just trying to be present and use what God’s given us to build more relationships.

Cara: Yes. And one of the things that jumps out at me from what you shared that y’all have done is the consistency of your presence. Continuously being present in your neighborhood and the posture of your presence, that generosity showing up without expectation.

So, the consistency of presence, that’s incredible.

Anne: That is so important. I’m so glad you highlighted that. Because just to go out and do one big event and blow it out and then you’re not there anymore, it just doesn’t have the same effect. And honestly, when we first started doing free yard sales, that’s how it was.

We’d go out and we’d do this big, free yard sale and give away all this stuff. And people would drive in, grab a lamp and then drive off, and we would never see them again. And so, we rethought the whole process and said, you know what we need? Consistency. So that’s when we started “The Give It Away Project.” And they knew every single Thursday, we were going to be out there, and they would come look for us.

And they started giving us donations like money. “Here’s a couple dollars.” They’d just took a bunch of shoes and some dishes, and they were so grateful that they wanted to give back, as well. So, it fostered that.

But the consistency—I still bump into people that I met for those eight weeks before the pandemic that we did “The Give It Away Project.” And I’m really sad that closed everything down and we had to stop the project, but God will open other doors. It’s all a learning experience. So, we just have to just go with the flow of things.

Cara: Absolutely. And to even think of that impact (in only eight weeks), that consistency can have.

When we think about—again, coming back to this elementary idea of making friends—most of us don’t make friends with somebody meeting them just one time. Every once in a while, maybe something does happen, you really hit it off. But normally, relationships develop over time spent with somebody. I love that you’ve “hit the nail on the head” with that consistency of showing up and being present in the neighborhood with people.

I’m curious what can it look like to develop both members’ individual relationship-building, as well as the church’s corporate efforts to connect with people in the neighborhood? Because I see these as simultaneous expressions or rhythms.

Anne: In my opening sermon for the year, casting vision for this year and introducing the word “prepare,” I told the congregation, we’re going to use the word “bless” as an acronym to prepare us this year for going out into the community. And just to give a little more detail, the vision that we feel God has given us is to stop renting from other churches because we’ve done that for the last 20 plus years and get our own small retail space right in the heart of Lemon Grove, where Broadway and Lemon Grove Avenue connect. And there’s a huge 2-ton lemon right there at that corner. And have our space be very much like a coffee shop that is fostering conversations. So, I like to say we’re going to build community through connection over coffee.

As we prepare for that, we’re going to use the word “BLESS.” And what it stands for—and I think this kind of answers your question—is the B stands for “begin with prayer.” And that is where it always starts. God, please make an appointment for me, help me bump into somebody today that needs to just feel loved and know you more.

Then the L stands for “listen well.” And we’re going to spend a lot of time this year practicing listening without judgment, listening without thinking about what you want to say next, but just to really be fully present in a conversation. And I think that is something that we can all get better at. I know for my myself, that’s always something I need to be practicing and that’s individual and corporate as well.

And then the third one, the E is “eating together,” and I can’t wait till masks can come off and we are eating together and not worrying about germs. And I think something happens when you share a meal together. Breaking bread is just beyond communion, taking a little thimble of juice and a cracker. I think breaking bread is sharing our lives together over meals. And so, I’m looking forward to doing that.

And then the two S’s—the first S stands for “serve with love.” And then the last one is “share your story.” So, the very last thing is when you start talking! And you start sharing the gospel, if you want to say God’s story, your story and how you share the gospel, it all begins with prayer, listening, eating together, serving them, and then you share your story and allow God to infuse your story with his Spirit.

And I think the trust is built through the B, the L, the E, and the S and then you get to the last one, and then they’re ready to hear your story, because you’ve earned that. You have that relational collateral where they’ll trust what you say that you really care about them. And you’re not just trying to get them to join your church or do something for yourself, which feels selfish.

Cara: Right. Thank you for sharing that, that BLESS acronym. (I think is the right term for it if I’m remembering correctly.)

Anne: I should give credit. Actually, I heard that acronym about 5-8 years ago at an Exponential conference, and I just have always remembered it. And I think about it often when I’m building a friendship with somebody. I think about, “Anne, just pray for them right now.” Just pray silently. I think we have to learn that technique of praying while we’re talking, praying while we’re listening. And I just go down the BLESS when I’m trying to build new friendships in the community.

Cara: Yes. And I think, together as a church community of those who are already gathering together as the church in Lemon Grove, you guys are corporately being prepared, but in a way that also is equipping members to be making friends in their personal encounters. And even the idea of creating this space where you can have coffee meetings and things like that is creating a corporate space and creating opportunities corporately as a church community, while also acknowledging that our participation in Jesus’ mission of relationship and making friends and joining him in the world isn’t restricted to only when we’re all together. And so that’s what I love about what you shared and how you guys are approaching this—it’s for the both / and, the corporate spaces and when we’re just walking around the streets for whoever God may have us encounter, when we’re minding our own business in our daily activities and rhythms. The both / and—the corporate and the individual.

Anne: Absolutely.

Cara: As we’re learning and we’re growing in these habits of building these relationships in our neighborhoods, what are some of the habits or ways of thinking that you think can get in the way of making authentic friendships?

Anne: What can get in the way? First thing that pops into my head is just the need to be right. So many times, people choose being right over relationships and I—our congregation, they’re probably sick of hearing me say this, but I’m always talking about relationships. And I tell them, I choose relationships over being right.

So, if I need to just swallow and breathe and not have to say, I disagree with that. Not that disagreement is bad and sometimes having a healthy debate can be really invigorating, but I think what I’m talking about is having a: this is what a Christian looks like or this is what people should be doing.

And then when somebody comes into your worldview or maybe sits across the coffee table from you or at a coffee shop and they look differently and they believe differently and they behave differently, it can make people uncomfortable if they’re not prepared for that. And I think so many times people think that being a Christian is getting other people to behave a certain way and it’s really not.

And I think that hinders how the world views Christians, as judgmental and I don’t know, it wound up too tight. And I think developing, learning to develop, to be comfortable with people, letting people be themselves and really finding out who they are. And instead of going, “Well, you shouldn’t feel that way, or you shouldn’t think that way, or you shouldn’t dress that way.”

But to really just meet them where they are, like the way Jesus would and listen to them and hear them and allow them to be that. It’s better to know the truth and not have them pretend to be something they’re not because you’re all wound up too tight.

Aim to be comfortable, because I think if somebody sits across from you, that is the opposite of you, it is uncomfortable, right? Maybe they’re politically the opposite of you or they are an atheist, or they don’t believe in God, and you do, or just, they dress differently. Because we like to be around people that are like us. Let’s just be honest. So, it makes us comfortable and the way that we feel right. It’s, “Oh yeah, this is the way that it should be.”

You said, what can we do to maybe challenge that or get rid of some things that get in the way? And I would say maybe make it a spiritual practice to get to know people who are not like you, like to just be able to sit in their presence and not have your body language—which is 70% of your communication—not be all like uncomfortable and nervous and just be relaxed and be able to listen to them. And finding that common ground of what they enjoy and finding where Jesus is at work in their life. Because I truly believe that Jesus is already out in my community doing all kinds of great stuff, and he’s working with people. I just get to go participate with that and sit down with somebody and see—and maybe help them see—how God is already at work in their life.

And I think it’s just learning to relax a little bit instead of trying to change people or be moral police or get them to a third thing. “That’s all good, what you just said, except you need Jesus, as well.” Yes! They need Jesus. In fact, Jesus has already got them.

And so, to just relax into that and not have to feel like trying to conform them into your mold of what you think a Jesus follower looks like, and maybe pull it out of them instead of trying to squeeze them into something.

Cara: You said something that I think is really profound to see that as a spiritual practice. I think that is so profound, because it is! It speaks to, how are we viewing God? How are we understanding his kingdom, his ministry, his mission in this world and our participation in it, what he’s up to in our midst, and the lives of those around us. And what you said that he’s already here and at work and in the lives of those that we meet, whether we’re comfortable or not, that is profound.

And so that is a spiritual practice of really recognizing God in places that maybe we might not expect to see him, and in people we might not expect to see him. But learning to see people through a Christ lens and see him at work in the making of friendships. That’s incredible.

Anne: It just takes the pressure off, right? Like I don’t have to go convince somebody to believe something differently than what they already believe. I just, I get the opportunity to participate in pulling out what is already there. God is the one who put in our hearts the desire to have fringe.

He’s the one who gave us that human need to connect. Babies, if they’re not touched and held die, right? We need each other and that’s a core thing that God stamped in every single human being, whether they call on his name or not. And so, to participate in that and help them see that is from a Creator. I don’t know.

It makes it exciting for me and it relieves the pressure. I can just enjoy people for who they are. I don’t have to get them to sign a contract by the end of a conversation that I believe in Jesus and he’s my Savior here. I’m going to say this little sinner’s prayer, sign the contract, and I’m done, and then I move on to the next person.

I think that’s harmful to the gospel, honestly.

Cara: Yes. Yes, because it’s like you said, it’s pressure. And that pressure almost, it sounds like, comes from this idea of, we are the ones to make something happen. We are the ones that have to save this person. Not, God is already at work, and we are participants in that.

That’s an important distinction that I think that you’ve drawn out, Anne. That’s awesome. Anything else that you would want to speak to in that sense? Barriers or habits, ways of thinking that get in the way of us building authentic relationships?

Anne: I guess just anything that is a barrier to a relationship. Being too busy (and I could be guilty of that) too busy doing the task. Sometimes I’ll get so focused on the task that I can dismiss the people. And I need to make sure that I’m always inviting people into the task.

I would say being busy. Being right. Those are obstacles. Judging people or just trying to make people look like me. Think like me. Those are all barriers to friendships, honestly.

Cara: And I like what you say about the task. I think busy-ness—that’s huge. But it’s not either / or, a lot of the times—tasks or people. What you said, you can invite people into the task with you.

Anne: That’s where some of the best friendships are made, honestly, when you’re doing something together.

Cara: I love that.

And as we’re practicing this and making friends in the neighborhood, how can making friends in the neighborhood shape the ministries or activities of the Love Avenue?

Anne: You’re going to get sick of hearing me say this, but I think all activities are to build and invest in relationships. So, if you have a program that’s not building relationships then cut it, or reshape it, redo it, nothing is too sacred. I think relationships are sacred. And so, everything needs to be about that. Everything.

At the end of every service for the last 16 years maybe, we say (this is what we say at Cornerstone), “We will live with Jesus, love with Jesus, and lead people with Jesus. And it used to be, we used to say, “We will live like Jesus, love like Jesus, and lead people to Jesus.” That’s how we first used to say it.

And about five years ago, we said this is not theologically correct. Jesus isn’t over here or over there, and we’ve got to grab somebody and lead them to him. We’re doing all of this with Jesus. It’s all about the relationship with Jesus with Father, Son, and Spirit. It’s the relationship we have with the triune God and then participating with a relationship that he already has with the other person and that he has with us. And it’s this symbiotic thing.

So, we say it every [Sunday], “We will live, love, and lead.” That our hashtag. It’s our motto. Even the smallest child knows. That’s what Cornerstone is about—living with, loving with, and leading with Jesus. So, it’s all about relationships. That’s how it is. Everything.

I think that’s how making friends shapes what we do at Cornerstone. We’re friends with God, and we’re friends with each other, and we’re friends with the world.

Cara: And when we actually make friends, and it becomes a reality and not just a conceptual thing, then that becomes a real thing that truly does shape the ministry.

It really does become a priority. And as you said, then we can prioritize this. If something is not helping to advance relationships, then we can cut it. Because we know what it means and what it looks like to be building those friendships in our neighborhoods.

And I imagine too, as we build that reality, we start to learn the practicalities of what does build relationships in our particular neighborhoods and what doesn’t, because every neighborhood is a little bit different or sometimes a lot, a bit different.

What would build relationships in one neighborhood might be different from another. And so, I think there’s a little maybe even trial and error. And as you get to actually know people in your neighborhood, you’ll know what activities do build relationships and what don’t.

Anne: That’s true. That’s true.

Cara: Anne, what advice do you have to share with our listeners who are getting started in the ministry of friend making?

Anne: I guess, bless them, begin with prayer. And like you said, maybe your neighborhood is a suburb with a lot of kids and maybe you have kids. And you can go out and start something, do an activity, rent a bouncy house, and invite all the kids over.

I think the prayer is where you have to (and I know this is a theological word) but you have to exegete your community. You have to know who they are and what they care about and where’s your common ground in that?

And, you might be a grandmother and you don’t have any kids, but you love kids, and you could set up, you could help them run a lemonade stand, or you could do something.

It’s beginning with the prayer. And then listening (back to the B L E S S—begin with prayer.) Listen. Because that’s where you’ll find out what they’re interested in. If you’re listening, you’re having conversations and then all of a sudden you realize, oh, they like to fish, and I know somebody in my church who fishes and then you can connect them.

And I think that listening is such a key part. And it’s being a friend first before just trying to find a friend it’s and it’s doing life together. And when you listen, you’ll hear those things. Like maybe it’s a book they read and maybe you think, oh, I need to start a book club. I’ll start a book club. I found three people who love to read or listen to books-on-tape (or not tape, audiobooks. Sorry, dating myself there.)

And then of course, eating together (the E in BLESS.) Make some space, even in COVID, you could do something outdoors, have a picnic on your front lawn with your neighbor.

What I try to do is connect my church family with my neighbors that live to the left and right of me. And we do different things, like I’ll invite, I’ll do a block party. Right before COVID, we did a block party for Christmas in our neighborhood. And there hadn’t been one (that we knew of), and all kinds of people came walking down the street with their desserts and we were out in the front yard.

And then I invited our church. “Come over, make friends with the people that are in my neighborhood.” And it’s just finding the common ground. And once again, just truly caring about them.

They can tell the difference. If they think it’s a church hosting an event to get people to come to their church, they’ll be turned off, at least in California. That’s not a cool thing. But if they think you care about them, just because you care about, then you’ve earned their trust and now you can become friends and do life together. And you can do the other S: serving them with love and sharing your story.

But I would say something else too is I think people fear making friends because they’re afraid maybe they won’t know what to say. Or they won’t have anything in common and the conversation will stall out. And I guess what I could say to that is just learn how to ask good questions. Just go online and look up 50 top questions for making friends or something, and if you can ask a good question and get the other person talking, then your work is done.

You know what I mean? Then you can just relax and listen and ask a follow-up question. But they say, an interesting person is an interested person. So, if you want to be an interesting person, just be interested in the person and it will flow.

And the friendship will blossom in ways that you couldn’t imagine, rather than you coming in thinking you have to be all that. “Oh, I’ve got to know everything. And I’m from one decade and they’re from another decade, and what in the world would I have in common with them?” You’re both human beings. You both maybe live on the same street or wherever you’re making your new friend.

And just find that by asking questions, what are they interested in? And what do they, how do they spend their spare time? What interesting TV shows have they seen lately? There are just all kinds of ways to (you have to do a little work) prepare yourself, have a couple of go-to questions that you can ask a stranger and then listen. And I think it’ll come more naturally than some of us fear.

Cara: That is some great advice. Thank you for sharing that with our listeners.

As we start to close up our time today, is there anything that we didn’t touch on or something that I didn’t ask you about that you’d like to share with our listeners?

Anne: It’s all about relationships. I did share that about 10 times! No, I can’t think of anything specific, but I guess, put on the lenses of relationship, put on the glasses and start looking everywhere. And I think you’ll see people hungry for relationships everywhere you go.

The cashier at the grocery store, the guy at the gas station. And if you just smile and make yourself fully present, instead of on your phone or busy or thinking about the next thing you have to do, I think God opens doors for relationships everywhere. And honestly, that is going to be a great harvest for the church coming out of the pandemic, as things really start opening up, there are going to be so many people who maybe even forgot how to have a conversation with a person face to face.

And if we’re not scared and we’re willing to dive in and love people well and listen well, I think we’re going to be able to make a lot of friends. And then, when you’re friends, you want to do stuff together. And then eventually they’ll say, “What do you do for a living?” Or they’ll say, “Why do you act the way you do?”

And maybe there’ll be interested in finding out more about you, and you can invite them to church. And it would feel natural. It would feel natural to invite them to a church picnic or a potluck or even a service. If you really get to know them and find the things that they’re longing for.

And if they’re longing for more people like you that are friendly and nonjudgmental, invite them to meet some of your friends from church and just see where God takes it. I’m not saying hide church from people, but I am saying is make the relationship and the friendship the more important thing and allow God to naturally open doors to invite them to your church and your church activities.

Cara: Yeah, becomes transformational rather than transactional.

Anne: Absolutely well said.

Cara: Amen. Thank you so much for sharing all these incredible insights. And I believe that our listeners will have a lot to continue to pray about and to discuss with one another in their local context.

And now is a segment of our podcast where it’s time to get a little bit silly. So, I have a few random questions for you

Anne: Uh oh.

Cara: We’ll see if your fear is warranted by the end. So, if you’re ready, I’m just going to ask a few random questions and you can tell us the first thing that comes to mind. All right.

If you could only listen to one genre of music for the rest of your life, what would it be?

I know it’s an unfair question.

Anne: That is so unfair. For the rest of my life? Seriously. Wow. I’ll give you the first thing that popped into my head and that is kind of new—how else would you say? Instrumental new age kind of music. I love turning it on in the background when I’m journaling or when I’m praying or when I’m just even working around the house.

It calms my spirit. Don’t get me wrong. I love a good ‘80s rock band too, but I don’t think I could listen to that for the rest of my life, but I could listen to a wonderful, piano melody, or just like an instrumental music softly behind me that just sets the mood.

I think that’s probably what I would listen to the rest of my life.

Cara: Nice. All right. Are you a book version or a movie version person?

Anne: I think I’m a movie version. I like audio books too, but I just, I have a hard time sitting still and reading a whole book. I don’t know why, I guess I just have so much I want to do so I love audio books.

I’ll stick earbuds in my ears and go to work and go out and do stuff, garden or compost, and I’m listening to my books on tape, but I love a good movie.

Cara: Oh, yeah. There’s no shame in that game. If you could instantly become an expert in something, what would it be?

Anne: Instantly become an expert? Probably. I think I would be an addiction counselor. I run across so many people that are really struggling with addictions of all kinds. And I would love to really know how to actually help them move through that, to the point of overcoming that, or at least being able to manage that addiction and live life well.

So, I think that. It might have something to do with coaching that I really think there’s some skills that I don’t have in dealing with addictions that I would love to have and be an expert at.

Cara: Amen. This next question is it’s make or break. Are you team dog or team cat?

Anne: I’m allergic to both.

Cara: So, team none! Alright, I’ll accept it.

Anne: If I had to choose, I would take a dog. I’d take a big dog over a cat, probably

Cara: Your favorite childhood game?

Anne: I guess I like building things. I’m a visual hands-on person. So, I guess I would have to say Tinkertoys or Lincoln Logs. Does anybody remember what those are? I loved building things with Tinkertoys. Yeah.

Cara: All right. And last one, what is your favorite type of weather?

Anne: San Diego. I love the sunshine.

Yeah, I couldn’t probably live in the Pacific Northwest. I would probably be depressed all the time. I love a good 70-to-80-degree day. That is perfect for me. And I live in the right place for my temperament. I was born in Colorado, by the way. I have enjoyed not having snowy winters, but that’s just me. And some people think it’s boring, but that’s okay. I get to live in San Diego, right?

Cara: That’s right.

Pastor Anne, thank you so much for taking your time to join us today. It’s our practice with GC Podcast to end the show with the word of prayer. So, would you be willing to pray for our listeners, churches, pastors, and ministry leaders in GC?

Anne: Sure.

Father, Son, and Spirit, thank you for the loving relationship that you have shared with us. You’ve invited us into that generative, generous relationship that you’ve been in for all eternity. And so, my prayer today is for all that are listening that we could just grow in that.

And we can rest in it, we can play in it, and we can participate in it. And take that joy and that beauty of the friendship we have with you to everyone we meet and truly spread the gospel and be on mission by loving people well and loving the way you’ve loved us. So first it starts with us, just really resting in the love that you have for us and reciprocating that friendship and getting to know you better.

And then taking that out to the human beings that you’ve created. And loving them well, by being friends with them, being friendly, and getting to know them well. Help us to be better listeners. Help us to be generous in even how we view them.

And help us to trust you that you’re the one already at work in their lives, and it’s not up to us to change other people. We get to just participate in loving them well, and that’s a blessing to us.

God, please bring us through this pandemic, to where we can really embrace people with hugs, and we can eat together. And we can really be an instrument in your hands to help people who have been isolated by this pandemic. And we can be a moving force in our communities to help people to heal and to connect.

Thank you for Grace Communion International and where you’re leading us. And I just pray for the future of this denomination and all who are in it and all who will join in this coming year. And I pray this in the powerful name of Jesus. Amen.

Cara: Amen.

Cara: I really appreciated Anne’s statement that relationship is God’s economy because our God is a God of relationship. Making friends is critical in sharing in God’s life and being his church. What made an impression on you?

Christianna: I loved the BLESS acronym. I think that is such a great way for us to envision how we develop relationships. And how we really make sure that we create space for common ground for those expressions of caring. And then also for those moments and opportunities where we can really be able to share God’s love in those relationships.

So, I think that is a great takeaway and a good way to remember how we want to be engaging with others and creating those meaningful friendships.

Cara: Yeah. And a practical way to remember too, right? It’s an easy thing that you can carry around with you and keep in mind.

Christiana, can you tell us how we can find out more about participating in Love Avenue ministry?

Christianna: To find out more, you can visit resources.gci.org/love to explore the GCI Love Avenue resources and the Love Avenue toolkit.

Cara: Thank you so much, friends. Thank you for joining us today. We really appreciate you listening in on the GC Podcast. If you like what you heard, go on ahead and give us a rating where you listen to the podcast. It helps us share the conversation.

Until next time, keep on living and sharing the gospel.

We want to thank you for listening to this episode of the GC Podcast. We hope you have found value in it to become a healthier leader. We would love to hear from you. If you have a suggestion on a topic, or if there is someone who you think we should interview, email us at info@gci.org. Remember, healthy churches start with healthy leaders; invest in yourself and your leaders.


One thought on “Making Friends in Your Neighborhood w/ Anne Stapleton”

  1. This was very helpful information that we want to implement in our church area.

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