ed fenstermacher



I first met Ed not long after my wife and I began looking for homes in the Williams-Woodland Park neighborhood hood about 10 years ago. Ed is often seen walking the neighborhood with his wife, or at the time, their beloved dog. Ed and his wife, Marlene, are two of the most genuine and nicest people that you can meet. Ed just might be the most Mr. Rogers neighbor around that I know. He embodies this philosophy of being a good neighbor in every area of his life. From picking up trash twice a day on his walks to the belief that he should be immersed in the neighborhood and know his neighbors beyond a simple wave or hello gives him a unique perspective and story about his neighboring journey.


When Ed moved into the Williams-Woodland neighborhood 34 years ago, he began working with a church in the neighborhood. It was required for him to live in the same neighborhood. So, as a single man, he moved in to get to know the people there and live in proximity to his job. The same reasons many choose a neighborhood. We locate by schools, jobs, and a whole host of other things that are important to us at the time. Though Ed had the opportunity to leave after getting married, he never left. His belief is that you can’t truly be the fullest version of a good neighbor to a neighborhood unless you’re in it, immersed in it, part of it. Over those first few years at the church, he began to become established and the mission field nature of his job turned relational and personal, which meant it was more than just a house to live in. This was home now. This was his neighborhood, not a mission field. 


Many churches or individuals that look at “neighboring” from a missional perspective, recognize that the transactional nature of service projects usually doesn’t create the relational connectivity or the transformation that they desire. The bouncing in and out of a neighborhood or an individual's life is unsustainable long-term. If they stay committed, over time they realize that proximity matters and becoming a neighbor in or close to the place they’re serving makes a difference. 


For Ed, this is a crucial role in living out what it means to be a good neighbor: Seeing those around you always as people, never as projects or objects. After 34 years of living in the neighborhood, it’s less about “doing” for him. Ed shared a story about a recent situation with a neighbor that woke him up in the middle of the night with some arguing and commotion. Ed’s first instinct was to call the police or go next door right then to let them know he wasn’t real excited to be woken up with the commotion. But, Ed had another thought in the moment and decided that letting it go for the night and then going next door the next day to introduce himself and begin to get to know the neighbor. That conversation led to a shared connection and an open dialogue that informed Ed that there was more to the story and that the instance was a random occurrence between a family member that doesn’t live there. Ed started with "get to know you" questions and conversation. Ed ended up walking away with a positive connection and information that changed his opinion of the circumstance that would have shaped his opinion of the neighbor. Could it have gone the other way and been a confrontation? Sure and it does sometimes. But Ed is learning to search for more information before forming his thoughts. 


Ed shows us where a lot of us have room to grow. When we see or hear the disruption to the status quo in our neighborhoods, what is our initial response? Do we respond initially out of fear, anger, or frustration and fill in the gaps with what we think is happening? Or, do we wonder or ask what’s going on that is causing it, and then going to find out before forming a conclusion. How do we start living with a neighboring mindset? How do we let it become engrained in our everyday lives to see our neighbors and people we encounter as people with a unique story or simply in a short-term position where life's circumstances are hard in the moment? How do we push past our own routine agendas to connect with our neighbors and let go of control in those interactions that actually add value? How do we reconcile our own challenges in the midst of community? These are questions Ed raises to us in his example of neighboring.


Something Ed lives by is that every single person is hard-wired for connection and community. Every human wants to be known and valued. Every single person has a story that we often miss because we create our own narrative about them and their lives to justify staying in our own comfortable routine.


Rewiring our minds and hearts to live with this neighboring mindset can be hard. It is hard to push past fear and out of our comfort zones. It's hard to remember how our own stuff going on impacts how we view others and our environment. Maybe we can all start with knowing our neighbors’ names, see where that takes us.