Q&A with Wally Mayton of the Midland Neighboring Project

Love thy neighbor as thyself. This well-known bible verse has developed into what many know as The Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Here in Midland, some community leaders are expanding on this idea in a unique way.

Maybe, you’ve given a casual wave or nod “hello” from time to time. Maybe you’ve even exchanged small talk here and there. But how well do you know your neighbors? What do you actually know about the people living life alongside you?

The Midland Neighboring Project seeks to close that gap and create connections. We caught up with Wallace “Wally” Mayton to learn more about this community building initiative.

Q: Thank you for taking the time to explain the Midland Neighboring Project! Can you tell us a little about your background?

A: I grew up in a midtown southern neighborhood in Memphis, Tennessee. My childhood home was first constructed by my maternal grandparents in the early 1920’s, in what was a newly developing neighborhood at the time. In the 50’s and 60’s, the neighborhood consisted of extended family members and neighbors with a host of children. I attended the same grade school, junior high school, and high school as my mother and all were in walking distance from our home. The sense of neighborhood was strong and well rooted with family connection.

My father was a native of Mobile, Alabama. I received my bachelor degree from Rhodes College, which was located in the neighborhood. Although my father was a native of Mobile, Alabama, Rhodes was also the alma mater of my parents. It’s where they first met, and where my future wife and I would first meet.

My family’s faith community was also in the neighborhood. I first left the neighborhood upon college graduation in 1970. I lived in Louisville, Kentucky where I earned a Master of Divinity degree in 1973 and in South Bend, Indiana where I accomplished a Master of Arts degree, 1974 for graduate studies.

I married my wife in 1973. I was ordained in the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. in 1975. Beginning in the parish ministry, I resided in a suburb of Memphis; in Anderson, South Carolina; and in Prairie Village, Kansas (metropolitan Kansas City) before our move to Midland in 1989. We came to Midland with five young daughters, ages 1-12 and looked for a neighborhood for our children to call home. I have served since 1989 as Associate Pastor of Memorial Presbyterian Church in Midland.

Q: What is the Midland Neighboring Project? Wally Mayton, Associate Pastor of Memorial Presbyterian Church and lead of the Midland Neighboring Project.

A: The initiative is easily defined. As community faith leaders and community advocates, we encourage friends to (1) learn the names of their neighbors; (2) to build relationships with their neighbors through common interests and shared experiences; and (3) to sustain compassionate and caring practices of neighboring love. In our diverse faith community, we affirm among us the principle and discipline of love for neighbor. This concept became the foundation of Midland Neighboring.

Q: What inspired the project?

A: As community pastors and community advocates, we recognized the needs of our neighbors which might best be fulfilled through the response of their residential neighbors. Encouraged by civic leaders such as Mayor Maureen Donker, we found a common goal of asking neighbors to move beyond acquaintance to the creation of caring relationships. Our goal is the enhancement of the quality of life for all residents within Midland County.

Q: How can people get involved in the Midland Neighboring Project?

A: Involvement occurs through individual responses, through social responses among neighbors, and though programmatic and outreach responses from faith communities. Our Midland Neighboring Facebook page invites reports of neighboring initiatives throughout Midland County. Kurt Faust serves as co-facilitator and there are inspirational articles as well as invitations to neighboring events. Kurt also facilitates a monthly gathering for faith community leaders for the sharing of ideas and events.

Q: Are you holding any upcoming events?

A: We rely on individuals and faith communities, in particular, to build events based upon the practice of neighboring. Our work is to support the events financially and prayerfully, to provide resources, and to learn lessons from experiences shared with us. Our initiative also includes a Midland Neighboring Project Fund held at Midland Area Community Foundation.

Several faith communities as well as neighborhoods host events annually to bring neighbors to a common ground and to celebrate or sustain relationship-building. Memorial Presbyterian hosts an annual Crawfish Boil in the spring as one of our messages of neighboring.

Q: Are there any other projects you’re involved with?

A: As a pastor, I have enjoyed generous support and encouragement from the congregation I serve and from senior pastors with whom I have served. We as a faith community accept the joys and responsibilities of practicing neighboring. The initiative has resulted in much collaboration within the Midland community that I’m proud to have been a part of:

  • Midland County Habitat for Humanity in the building and renovating of neighborhood homes
  • Midland Noon Rotary Club in the renovation of Grove Street Park and the development of the midtown neighborhood
  • Midland Public Schools in the enhancement of student experience in our neighboring Central Park School
  • Midland County Emergency Food Pantry Network through our HELP Food Pantry
  • United Way of Midland County
  • Midland Fresh in the establishment of the Midtown Community Garden.
  • Our Greenhoe Memorial Library and Rainbow Children’s Library welcome neighbors

Inspired by Midland Neighboring, we’ve responded with other faith communities to the Flood Recovery Project in collaboration with Midland Area Community Foundation and United Way of Midland County. Pastoral commitment also extends to the Greater Midland North Family Center and the West Midland Family Center.

Growing our community in caring relationships also extends to our relationships in Midland County with Northwood University, Project 111 Safe Driving Initiative for Teens, Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Great Lakes Bay Region, MidMichigan Medical Center – Midland, Adoption Option, Inc., Midland County Affordable Housing Alliance, the Arc of Midland, Home to Stay Housing Assistance Center, Midland’s Open Door, Ten16 Treatment Center, and the ROCK Center for Youth Development. These among other drivers of neighboring spirit receive our attention and commitment. I am grateful to such neighboring experiences as Leadership Midland, the Great Lakes Bay Regional Leadership Institute, Our Community Listens, and Creating Our Best.

The support for neighboring in our community is tremendous!

Q: What is your favorite thing to do in Midland?

A: Of course, neighboring! I appreciate opportunities to build relationships and to offer caring and encouragement to neighbors. One of the greatest accomplishments of Midland Neighboring, in my heart, is the result of trusting and caring relationships that we enjoy as community pastors. I learn from these colleagues as my neighbors. I attempt to greet new pastors in the community. I work to sustain relationships, both personally and professionally. I am amazed how giving and receiving encouragement among peers provides both comfort and motivation.

I attest that Midland cares. We have the spiritual equipment – love for neighbor – that allows growth and bonds of friendship to happen in spite of our diversity or difference of opinions. We care for one another. This is the legacy we as a family, and I as a pastor and neighbor, discovered on our move into Midland County. We are grateful to call Midland home!

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