Making family where you live

April 19, 2002|BY KATE COLEMAN

"Easter Sunday was hard for me," says the Rev. Ginny Brown Daniel, associate pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Hagerstown.

During her sermon, the 30-year-old United Church of Christ minister looked out at a congregation full of families, while she was miles and miles from her own family in Alabama.

Later in the service, during a time of blessing, when people come forward, she placed her hands on them saying, "You are a beloved child of God."

A 3-year-old boy ran up the aisle, arms open wide and gave her a hug.

"You are a beloved child of God," Daniels heard God say to her. "You're gonna be OK."

For Daniel, family - from parents and siblings to grandparents and extended family - are the people who "have known us at our best and known us at our worst and still love us," Daniel says.


She acknowledges that she feels a responsibility to her parishioners, but they have come to feel like family to her.

No nostalgia

Family and family life in America life have changed since the turn of the last century. In the 1950s, more people lived near their grandparents, says Stephanie Coontz, co-chair of the nonprofit Council on Contemporary American Families.

But Coontz, who wrote "The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap" and "The Way We Really Are: Coming to Terms With America's Changing Families," doesn't place much value on nostalgia.

People need to stop saying that everything would be all right if we could go back to something that probably didn't exist, she says.

For example, Coontz says society actually was more mobile during the 19th century than in the 20th. The difference is that in the 1800s it was working class people who were moving; in the 1900s it was professionals who were more likely to move.

Coontz says that the idea of the death of community has been overblown, but she acknowledges that some things have changed.

Community may have been easier in the 19th century. The networks of the church, the labor movement and ethnic associations were stronger, she says.

She sees friendships and relationships developing in the workplace, but the new problem is that there's not much room for kids in that setting.

Parents manage to spend as much time with their children as before, but the community infrastructure - the presence of other adults in the neighborhood - in kid's lives has been lost, she says.

Romanticizing the family of the past doesn't help to identify the main challenges of the present, Coontz says. Non-family networks need to be established to provide support.

Finding support

Cheryl Sevick has a well-established network of support. She's lived in Hagerstown for 12 years - the longest she's lived in one place since growing up in Connecticut. Her family came to town when her husband, Douglas, got a job here.

Before that they lived in New Canton, Ohio; before that, in Reading, Pa., the place where her children, now 33 and 31, were born.

Sevick joined Newcomers groups in the communities to which she moved. "You come in knowing nothing," she says.

She was able to learn about schools, doctors, shopping - information needed to make a home in a new town. "The whole thing is to help the person acclimate to the area, have someone to talk to and be happy," Sevick says.

The local organization is called Newcomers Unlimited because members wanted to remain involved with friends in the group long after they couldn't be technically considered "newcomers."

Monthly lunch meetings at a variety of local restaurants feature speakers. People new to the community have a chance to learn about area programs and opportunities and get to meet people with whom they have something in common. The group is diverse - about 100 members, Sevick says. Members also get together for bridge, book discussions, crafts, gourmet dinners - whatever they want to do.

"We try to welcome people because we've all been there," Sevick says. She recently crossed the street to invite a brand new neighbor to the next lunch meeting. "She jumped at it."

Like family, Newcomers friends help each other in troubled times. Sevick tried to reach a neighbor who had a fire at her home to invite her for dinner. The family had already been invited to the home of another Newcomer friend.

People always are looking for close relationships, Sevick says. She and her family have found them.

Last year they went on a European cruise with friends from New Canton and recently attended the wedding of one of their children.

"When you find them, you keep lasting friendships," Sevick says.

"These people have become family."

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