A few months ago, Doug and Kristin Rowland looked around their neighborhood in Bettendorf, with the rows of nice homes and the young families who had block parties and ran 5ks together on the weekends — and it seemed perfect. Almost too perfect. Almost like a movie.
So, in December, the couple moved across the river, and across economic and cultural lines, to a home located in the west end of Rock Island.
They know it sounds crazy, they said while sipping pumpkin chai lattes at Bettendorf's Coffee Hound this week.
"It's totally crazy, but we just knew we were missing what it was like in other parts of the Quad-Cities,” Doug, 31, said. “We wanted to try being a neighbor somewhere else.”
As a pastor of outreach ministries at Harvest Bible Chapel in Davenport, finding unique ways to serve is a big part of Doug’s job description.
Much of what he does goes beyond the walls of the church, which has a membership of about 1,800 people.
But moving his wife and two kids to a different city went outside his comfort zone.
“Some of our old neighbors have a lots of questions, and question if it was worth it," he said.
The answers, they say, are often found around their dinner table on Thursday nights. Every Thursday, the Rowlands invite their neighbors over for a meal. It’s a weekly tradition they started a few years ago, but the guests have changed since moving to Rock Island.
They’ve hosted groups of teenagers and African refugees and married couples who could barely speak English. One man has lived in his house for 25 years, but didn’t know anyone else in the neighborhood until he came over to the Rowlands for a crockpot meal.
“It shows how isolated we can be,” Doug said. “Everyone craves community, even if we’re very different people."
The Thursday-night appointments happen like clockwork. If somebody cancels last minute, the couple will go through their phones or knock on doors to invite someone else.
“We have become very intentional about it,” Kristin said. “Because you can always have an idea in your head, but you have to put it on the calendar and you have to follow through to make new relationships happen.”
"I like to be a regular person, no matter if it's the coffee shop I go to or the hair salon," Doug added. "Otherwise, it's just like you're drifting."
The dinners can certainly be full of awkward small-talk at first, but they usually end with some laughs.
"Food can be disarming," Doug said, saying that people have been known to spill their souls over a few slices of pizza.
"Something definitely happens whens you’re around the table with people," he said.
Sometimes, however, people have reservations about eating with a pastor and his wife. When people find out he's a pastor, it can easily kill the conversation.
Some guests aren't sure what to wear or what to say during a prayer, or they have bad memories about going to church.
“Everyone has church baggage, and we get that,” Doug said. “Sometimes you have to unpack those bags and leave them at the door and just talk about life."
But the dinners don’t come with any obligations. You don’t have to promise to go to church, or invite them over for dinner in return.
“It’s not about one-upping or showmanship,” Kristin said. “It’s not about keeping score, it’s just about creating a space for community.”
Still, they’ve made some new friends who likely will try out Harvest Bible Chapel for Easter services on Sunday.
“As a church, Easter is an even bigger deal than Christmas, and you always hope to see more people there,” Doug said. “It's a day where people tend to be more receptive to the idea of church.”
So, in true family fashion, they’ll probably host a big meal and invite all kinds of people over. The day will consist of church, pastel dresses and an egg hunt — but also good conversations and food.
“I often joke that Jesus did a whole lot of ministry over the table, but it’s true,” Doug said. “There’s so much that happens over a good meal with people."