When I was growing up in Chicago, I was a snob about the suburbs. A suburb was a place without a soul. A place whose soul, land, and history had been carpeted over with asphalt, sod, and malls. Many of my urban friends still believe this about the suburbs and would never live in one. Suburbs are a soulless amalgamation of lawns, parking lots, malls, subdivisions, and people who are hiding from reality.
But I ended up living in one.
Vicars (or pastors) have to find jobs like anyone else and I found the perfect job at a small, lively church in Bolingbrook, Illinois, which also happens to be one of the last places I imagined myself living when I was, say, about sixteen years old. Bolingbrook was founded when a couple of subdivisions were built on cornfields in about 1960, thirty miles southwest of Chicago. It was named “Bolingbrook” apropos of nothing – probably because the developer thought the name sounded bucolic and vaguely English. (“Bolingbroke” is the name of a castle in England, where King Henry IV was born ca. 1366. More on that another time.) These subdivisions were affordable, if built a bit sloppily, according to reports in village newsletters.
Bolingbrook is now home to over 70,000 people, has been named one of the top 100 places to live (#43) in America, and has a notably diverse population. But it’s a classically soulless suburb, according to popular standards: lawns, parking lots, malls, subdivisions, etc. Here’s a classic critique by a college student in Flint, Michigan, who, like me, ais searching for the soul of a place many people consider to be soulless.
I’ve lived in Bolingbrook since late 2007. My husband and I bought a house here in 2009. My church is here, and I preach and work here. I’m fascinated by Bolingbrook, by my new home and the ways it’s surprised me.
Could a suburb have a soul?