“You’re going to want to be careful when your kids play back here,” he said. “Too many people fly down this alley. And when there’s standing water, it’s often seeping up from the sewage. You’ll want to watch for that.”
All this came in my first 90 seconds with Brad, one of our new neighbors here in Davenport. I could already tell a lot about him: he was kind, informed, earnest, and loved to connect. He was quirky, a life-long Davenport resident, and had a great sense of humor. These initial senses proved true a few weeks later when he organized a block party to welcome us. He’s remained a first-class neighbor.
As I look back on my two years at St. Paul and look ahead to the congregation I’ll be serving in Rochester, I’ve been reflecting on the power of first impressions. Brad hadn’t just revealed something about himself, but about the hospitality and character of our whole block. Likewise, when I walked into St. Paul for the first time, I was struck immediately by all kinds of things.
First was how clean the church was, and how well-maintained the grounds were. Next was the combination of focus, friendliness, and flexibility that marked my personal interactions. Then there were all the intangibles: the open spaces where I could imagine the buzz of lively conversation; the gorgeous, awe-inspiring sanctuary; the light and the images around the building that bore witness to a congregation that was very much alive. Hundreds of conversations with actual St. Paul people over the following months deepened these initial observations. In the end, the hospitality, generosity, joy, adaptiveness, and faith of St. Paul were all impressed upon my own person, for which I am forever grateful. I hope to take this with me as I make my own first impressions in Rochester, where I know I’ll learn quickly of Gloria Dei’s own character.
First impressions cannot tell you everything. People change and grow all the time, and sometimes we get things dead wrong. But what first impressions do offer, it seems to me, is a glimpse of where a place or a person aspires to be. My prayer for you, and for myself, would be that God might impress on us some of what’s clearly been impressed on the Apostle Paul as he shares these words:
I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back. (Philippians 3:12-14, The Message)