Coming Home in a Big Place

I left home this time last year, after living my entire life near Albany and clichédly moved to New York City for a job. It was new and exhilarating but highly disorienting. You’d think that in such a big city, it would be easy to meet people and feel connected. And you’d be wrong.

I never knew how firmly planted I was until I left. I spent my summer with five nights in New York and two nights in Albany every week, and felt like a phantom—uprooted, ungrounded. I’d go to church in Albany and people would ask me when I was moving to New York, and in New York people wanted to know how long I was visiting.

When autumn came, and I started spending weekends in New York, I realized that my idea of home was moving. “Home” was now my tiny Greenwich Village apartment, instead of my parents’ house (which now felt like a palace). The first night that I told a friend “I’m going home,” and meant my little shared apartment, I knew life had changed.

The big shift had happened; I started attending my roommate’s church every weekend, met the most intensely wonderful concentration of unique, eclectic people I’d ever known and found my heart at rest in that place. Now, each Sunday morning, I watch people stream down the aisles during communion and think, “This is where I belong.”

And now I’m moving my stuff again, this time to Brooklyn, to a place with just my name on the lease. I’ve had to remember that this hasn’t been a hunt for a house (or in my case, a closet-sized apartment); it’s a home, a haven, a place where I can bring my family and friends to relax and converse and experience each other and God in a new way.

I’ve developed some very unscientific and unproven but deeply-felt ideas for establishing “home” anywhere, but especially in a big city.

Choose your neighborhood wisely. It’s worth it to live in a smaller space but a better, more accessible area than in a large place and a dead neighborhood. Particularly in your first year, when you’re still meeting people and putting down roots, being in a neighborhood that you love coming back to at the end of a long work day is comforting.

Find a church, and be faithful to it. Friends who spent years church-hopping tell me that they felt a bit lost and adrift until they committed to a place. Do a little research and ask around to find a place that shares your beliefs. You’ll never find the perfect church, but you will find the one God wants you to join.

If possible, live in a neighborhood near your church. It’s not always economically viable, but when you’re first moving to a big city—especially as public-transportation-based as New York—it’s great to be nearby, as there’s a good chance that many others from the church will live nearby.

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Serve that church family. I believe that it’s short-sighted to look only for a church with ministries that meet your needs. Instead, ask God for a place where you can meet the church’s needs. Don’t wait for others to reach out—reach out to them.

Join a small group. If you’ve got a church that has small Bible studies, by all means, join one. My church doesn’t have a building, so the fellowship groups meet in church members’ homes around the city. I think that’s a beautiful picture of God’s church existing in its members, not its building. And we grow to know and love each other more through the experience.

Be hospitable. In the big city, where space is limited, hospitality can mean simply asking someone to grab coffee with you. I’m still learning how to do that. Remember that most people haven’t been there any longer than you and probably feel just as adrift.

Putting down roots and reaching out can make the difference between loneliness and a happy, fellowship-filled urban life. Invest in others and let them invest in you. And good luck with the move.

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