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Cool treats and community

eyxton Padelford enjoys a vanilla cone in the parking lot of Empire Town Hall at last week's Ice Cream Summer event.1 / 2
Raelinh Vo, above, helps scoop ice cream for an Ice Cream Summer gathering held Friday by Empire Township residents Mike Kaine, pictured, and his wife, Cindy.2 / 2

Two Farmington churches are doing what they can to bring neighbors together, one cool scoop at a time.

Ever since the weather turned warm, Light of the World Church and Farmington Lutheran have teamed up for an event they call Ice Cream Summer. All summer long, the churches have encouraged their members to invite neighbors out to enjoy a frosty treat and spend a little time getting to know each other.

The idea for Ice Cream Summer started at Light of the World. Pastor Deb Stehlin said the church wanted to find a way to create connections between people who might otherwise see their neighbors only when they pull out of the garage in the morning or over the fence on they mow the lawn on the weekend.

The event is a literal interpretation of the Biblical idea of loving thy neighbor. Love thy cul de sac.

"I think that any time you can strengthen the bonds of community it's a really important thing, so we can realize how we're connected to each other," Stehlin said. "We share a common destiny and a common future.

"I know that's an ache for a lot of people here. They long to be connected to neighbors, but sometimes it's kind of awkward after you've lived somewhere for a few years (to introduce yourself)."

The execution behind Ice Cream Summer is as simple as its inspiration. The churches provide door-hanging signs that members can pick up if they want to hold a party. They distribute the signs, which invite people to come out for ice cream and conversation, then set up their buckets and scoops and see who shows up.

Empire Township residents Mike and Cindy Kaine held their gathering on Friday. They distributed their signs and set up with coolers in the parking lot outside Empire Town Hall. They served cones and bowls of strawberry swirl, chocolate and mint chocolate chip to anybody who stopped by.

The Kaines used to know all of their neighbors, but over time familiar faces moved out and new families moved in. Today, they know the people who live three houses in either direction, but not many beyond that. They held their Ice Cream Summer gathering in the hopes of getting to know the people who live near them, finding out what's on people's minds and enjoying a summer night with a cool treat.

"If somebody shows up for conversation, then it's a success," Kaine said.

In the first hour of the gathering, things seemed to go well. The Kaines got visits from a few people they knew and others they hadn't met. They talked about gardens and business and lot lines and who lives where. Kids ate ice cream and played with the dogs others brought along.

The Kaines' event was the fourth Ice Cream Summer gathering held by Light of the World members, and Stehlin said the others also went well. At one, held in late August in the Country View neighborhood, the hosts went through four buckets of ice cream and served 40 or 50 people Stehlin said two people who found out she was a pastor approached and asked her to pray for them.

She's thrilled to make those kinds of connections.

Ice Cream Summer started slowly, but Stehlin said it has picked up as people have heard success stories. In one case, the church members who held the party knew most of their neighbors, but realized once everyone was gathered in their yard that most of the neighbors did not know each other.

"As people hear that it's not rocket science and that it's not as scary as they might imagine, more and more people are saying, 'I can do that.'" Stehlin said. "This is going to keep happening. We kind of hope it turns into a movement."

At Farmington Lutheran, ministry coordinator Autumn Enright has had much the same experience.

"I think next year it will grow even bigger," she said.

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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