It’s completely reasonable to step back and view the Memphis neighborhood of Binghampton as a microcosm of the United States as a whole.It’s as diverse a community as you can find anywhere; a place where refugees from war-torn nations in Africa try to find footing in a new land of opportunity; a place where affluence and poverty cross paths on the street; a place where faith fuels hope, even in the midst of struggle.
At the center of this cross-section of American society is The Commons on Merton, where the ministries and non-profit organizations working to enhance the community converge in a shared space — an old United Methodist Church building once reserved for one congregation and one linear vision.
The Center for Transforming Communities has brought together a range of partners within the building to sustain its operations and combine efforts to build a new future for the neighborhood, the city and society itself.
Barbara Vann sees great possibility in The Commons, and she’s watched it evolve through the transformation of the building itself from that single-congregation church to a building that glows with a sense of co-operative community that shines into the neighborhood.
“What I’ve noticed is the way the ethos of the co-operation of the building use moves out into the community,” says Barbara, a lay leader with the Binghampton United Methodist church.
When she thinks about the co-operation among the partner organizations, she talks of the gears of change turning through their overlapping purposes and how everyone connected to these groups begins to move past thinking individually to thinking collectively. “Maybe it will move us past thinking about our homes as our home,” Barbara says. Home is the community.
When asked for a practical example of this in action, she recalls an inspirational chain of prayers and hopes linking together the diverse populations of the neighborhood — that microcosm of the United States.
Some time ago a group from The Commons visited Caritas Village a few blocks away, another place where community members gather and share common vision for community enhancement.
“We asked the community people to write their prayer requests on a slip of paper, and we made these paper slips into a big chain,” Barbara recalls.
“As a parade they brought that chain from Caritas Village up the street . . . and into the building where it was placed on a tree — it still sits there today.”
People saw this chain travel the streets, many knowing it contained the prayers of so many individuals, now combined as one single collection of hopes and dreams.
“I saw the tide shift,” Barbara says, allowing herself to imagine a similar chain linking the hopes of society itself.
This is representative of the The Commons in her mind and an example of the many possibilities that emerge when people work together towards community transformation.