It happened to me this past Sunday. I met a new guy in our church who told me that he and his family had just moved here to New Hampshire from Iowa. Since my wife is from Nebraska, we talked a little about farms and the Midwest and the Cornhuskers. Then the big question…how do you like New England? His answer didn’t surprise me. “To be honest, the people here are really different.” And he wasn’t just referring to the amount of Dunkin Donuts coffee we drink!
Are we really so different in New England? After all, people are the same everywhere right? The same needs, challenges, desires, opportunities and attitudes…right? Maybe not. New England is a unique region of the country and if there’s one statistic that can prove that out, it’s in the area of church attendance and how many people identify themselves as Christians. In fact, a huge percentage of people in New England would fall into the category of non-religious. Spiritual maybe, but non-religious.
I was reminded by a wise woman today that the thing that sets our region apart from many other places in the country is that we are still here. Unlike the pioneers and early-adopters that moved West, our forefathers didn’t budge. This is as good as it gets. No need to change. Maybe that’s why we have such an aging population in places like Vermont and Maine and New Hampshire. The younger generation is out of here, looking for new opportunity and experience.
Several years ago, I invited a neighbor to church. His response stunned me, telling me no and asking me not to talk to him about it again. He was fine. “All set,” were his exact words. As a typical New Englander, in his mind I was intruding into places that were private.
I have spoken to friends and others outside of New England that don’t really get it. They believe that people are people, and New Englanders are no different than Southerners or Left Coasters. While it is true that we all need Jesus and we all need community, how you go about relating to folks from my neck of the woods is a world apart from how you relate to someone from Dallas (bless your heart) or LA (hey dude). In my opinion the difference requires an investment in the person that cannot be merely casual or temporary. This costs something that many of us are not willing to spend- our time, our friendship, our trust, and our love.
The neighbor I talked about…well 15 years later, he and his family are a part of our church, they love Jesus and they are serving others. But first we had to love them and serve them with no strings attached. Are New Englanders really that different? What do you think?