I’ve attended a few street parties in my time. Most of them have been low-key affairs, a small gathering around a barbecue at the end of a cul-de-sac with the once-a-year exchange of pleasantries and small talk with neighbours.
For seven years Riccarton Community Church in Christchurch has thrown a street party – but it is no ordinary street party! It is an annual highlight for the Riccarton community, who flock to the party in their hundreds.
On a Sunday around November every year, with the permission of the City Council, a portion of Elizabeth Street gets closed down and transformed into a magical space. A free stage show runs throughout, and there are bouncy castles, face-painting, pony rides and a petting zoo for the kids. Adults can browse the market stalls and the free clothing boxes or can enjoy a Devonshire Tea. And of course there is no shortage of food, from free sausages off the barbecue to a range of yummy goodies provided by stallholders.
Seen it all before? There are a few unique features of this street party that make it special.
First are the competitions. The Grand Lucky Draw is for a massive $500 Warehouse voucher, so plenty of incentive to hang around to the end! Other competitions like ‘Guess the weight of the Christmas cake’ and ‘Guess the number of Snake lollies in the jar’ are also fun diversions.
Second is the creation of a ‘Soul Space’ – a space for reflection away from the madding crowd with couches, music and inspirational slides. There is also the opportunity to record gratitude to God on the Thankfulness Wall or to post a prayer request in the sealed Prayer Box.
But the most significant factor that takes this street from community-building to community outreach is that the folk from this church know that it’s all about relationships. Nicki Aitken, one of the organising team, says “We want people to make connections, so we encourage everyone to strike up conversations. We say ‘find out what they like and introduce them to someone else who has similar interests such as a job or a stage of life. See if you can link them to our Funtime Playgroup or our mainly music’. Having the competition draws at the end of the day increases the opportunity for having these conversations.”
Conversations started at the party have been continued later. Nicki relates, “The party surfaces people you haven’t seen for a while, and though I’m too busy to stop and talk to them on the day, I promise to call them to catch up over a coffee and I do.”
Have folk been drawn into the orbit of the church through the street party? Nicki can point to a number of folk their church has been able to minister to for whom the street party was the first touch. “A community lady I met at the Street Party a couple of years ago finally came to church last Sunday and she brought a friend. They said they will be back, so very exciting to see God at work!”