New for 2021 - casual conversations with familiar faces and people to know in Medford, Massachusetts. Whether the City of Medford has been your home for generations, or you're new in town, we hope it will be helpful to get know your neighbors a little better this year! Introducing, Reverend Wendy Miller Olapade of the United Church of Christ.
What brought you to Medford? I know some of the story, but it's always better to hear it from you.
My journey to Medford was a beautiful alignment of the professional and personal. I arrived in 2013 to serve as the Designated Term Pastor of the Congregational Church of West Medford on High Street, which was, like many churches of its ilk, experiencing a profound transition. Membership was down, and fiscally, the church could not sustain itself. As a result, the congregation had opted to participate in the Crossroads program, which would help them decide what was next for their faith community, both in mission and infrastructure. As designated term pastor, I would usher the congregation through this transition, a particular skill set and training that I held.
So there was this beautiful alignment of the church needing somebody who had the skills and the experience that I had; I came with a lot of experience in ushering people through change.
My area minister encouraged me to think about this particular call to serve because the City of Medford was so diverse, and ours is a multiracial family. She felt like the community would fit us culturally as well as a good fit for me professionally. Which leads to the beautiful personal alignment: I and my sons, who were 20 and 13 at the time, were at our own crossroads. I was about 18 months out of a marriage, and we were living in a tiny apartment that a friend had gifted us, as I was leaving the circumstances in which I found myself, but I couldn't stay any longer. The church had a parsonage where we could live. The possibility of moving into a single-family home for us was a beautiful opportunity. It's a long and detailed story, but for me, it's a story of God doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.
What did you know about Medford before moving here?
I think I've told you this story. You know, Medford, to me, was the rotary out on Route 93. That's all I knew of it. I had lived in Wakefield and Jamaica Plain; during my marriage, I lived in Reading. I lived in Newton when I first made it out of seminary. And in 2013, I was in Needham, in this apartment. So I had lived around the city but had never actually gone off the highway into Medford.
Since moving here, I have come to absolutely adore Medford, and I think in some ways I've said this to people before: I fit. We fit in Medford better than any place that I have ever lived. And I've lived in a lot of places! I am grateful to live in Medford.
You're calling Medford home now, and you so clearly love the community. What do you love about Medford? Why do you love living here?
Well, certainly, diversity was a factor in me saying yes to Medford. As a white woman in a multiracial family, I used to imagine, "Wouldn't it be a beautiful thing if my family walked down the street, and nobody gave a second look, nobody noticed?" In some ways, I feel like that's a part of what I've experienced in Medford -- that nobody noticed that we weren't an all-white family. There's a characteristic of that acceptance that feels pretty wonderful.
It's not to say that my sons have not experienced racism because they have, both overt and covert. But in many circles, it is not noticeable that my family is multiracial, and we do feel like we fit here to a big degree. So I love that about the community.
Of course, there is also the religious diversity. We have a Temple, an Islamic Center, the Kurukulla for Tibetan Buddhist Studies, Catholic Churches, and Unitarian and Episcopal Churches. We are an interfaith community that openly engages with one another.
Most importantly, it's very clear to me that Medford is full of people who give a damn. There's so much engagement in community building, in the issues that the city is facing, in building organizations that help our citizens. There's civic engagement and investment in our city that I love that also aligns with who I am.
Well, that's an excellent dovetail to the next question about your specific role in the Medford community and how you embolden a lot of that engagement.
The Crossroads process's outcome was that the Congregational Church decided to sell its property and invest its assets in being outwardly focused. We created a new spiritual home a few blocks away in what is now known as Sanctuary UCC. Our church form is designed to meet people where they are out in the world rather than expect them to come to us.
As pastor, I spread a message of love and light in three different ways —first, faith formation. As a Christian congregation, we express that in the world in terms of God's call to love and share goodness with each other. Whether that form is in direct worship, prayer groups, meditation groups, or educational experiences like art ministry, we teach people about forming faith.
Second is direct service ministry, most notable in the food pantry and the 15 Micro Food Pantries throughout the city that serve the hungry by offering food access.
Lastly, in what I think is unique to the way Sanctuary UCC operates, I refer to moral leadership. In this role, I'm out serving as the President of Medford Health Matters or as the President of the Interfaith Clergy Association, evoking a response to injustice or tragedy, such as tragedies around gun violence or the Black Lives Matter movement, or bringing awareness to issues of inequity in housing and food distribution.
Where do you see Medford headed?
It's funny; a lot of people say things like, "Medford is going to be the next Somerville, the next this and the next that." We're not going to be the next Somerville; we're going to be the next Medford.
I see young, invested human beings who have chosen Medford to raise their families for the same reasons that I did. They call for progressive ways of serving; they're calling for justice and equity in our government and our systems. They're calling for access to cool things like restaurants. And while COVID certainly has put a damper on that, I think that what's going to come of the tension between the way it was and how it's going to be, we will find our way.
I think Medford is headed for greatness. More greatness. Our community is changing and will continue to change because both those who have been here for generations, and those who have newly arrived, give a damn. They care. The solution to difference is to stay in the conversation. So as long as we remain in dialogue with each other and keep finding out what is to unfold, we will find our way.
What are some of the things that you love about your particular neighborhood?
I have really lovely neighbors who have beautiful homes that they keep nicely. So that's a very privileged response. But there's a lot of beauty. I'm somebody who loves beautiful things, the beauty around me, and beauty comes in lots of different forms. But you know, my neighborhood is beautiful.
I love the mixture of it being both urban and not urban. We have a little yard here on Brooks Street in West Medford, and there are trees and lakes and greenery and such beauty all around us. At the same time, we're so close to Boston, and the resources that proximity provides, especially public transportation, are wonderful. The high school is within walking distance from our home. And for those without cars, the commuter rail and buses can bring you into the city, or if you're in a pinch, you can Uber. My boys don't drive my car; with insurance rates being what they are for males under 25, we've run the numbers, and Uber is cheaper.
And of course, in terms of my work, having relationships with the folks of the West Medford Community Center, Shiloh, Baptist, West, Medford Baptist, those faith community connections have been an enormous asset for us, both personally and otherwise.
What would you tell someone who is thinking of making a move to Medford?
I would encourage them to take the time to see all the way around Medford because the truth is that Medford is a lot of different little communities. North Medford is an entirely different place than East Medford, than South Medford. Each neighborhood has its own spirit and its own energy.
So that would be my one wisdom is to take the time to find somebody who could take you around and show you all the different little nooks and crannies. Find your own nook, your own safe place where you get to recharge and recover. That's one of the many beauties of Medford; you can find your own little nook.
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Photo Credits: All photos courtesy of Wendy Miller. Pictured above, one of the 15 neighbhorhood Micro Food-Pantries.