The Zoom meeting was scheduled for 4pm and I waited, ready for the call, but one member couldn’t connect. The rest of us agreed to postpone. As I closed my iPad, some chatter from the street outside strayed up the stairs. I was shocked by my reaction. Speedily I made coffee, grabbed a cushion and hurried out to sit on my front steps.
Below the steps to my left, in the garden of her basement flat, sat Annie with baby Amelie under their large sun umbrella. Kirstie, with her newly acquired camping chair, wine glass in hand, was on her path to my right. Leon was trimming his hedge and Janice was passing by, leaning on the gate. It felt so good to join the socially distanced gathering.
Something’s changed and we’re all talking about it … we’re getting to know our neighbours!
In this fast-moving world of work and travel, neighbours are not usually friends. They have a different role in our lives. Family and friends who live far away are no good when you’re locked out, your car battery is flat and you need help with jump leads, or you’re out when that package is delivered. That’s the job of good neighbours. In our street we’ve always enjoyed this kind of give and take neighbourliness.
Ours is a neighbourhood that goes further than many, and we hold a number of community events. We congregate at ‘The Bells’ to welcome in New Year and in the summer have market stalls in our back lanes. Clapping the carers on Thursdays seemed like another of these occasions, bringing a sense of togetherness: together against the virus, together in lockdown, together for the NHS.
All of this has been good, but as I sat on the steps on my cushion, I knew something had changed. We were doing more than receiving deliveries for one another. And we were doing something that couldn’t be done on zoom calls either. We were meeting one another’s emotional needs as well – the need for human company, the need usually met by family and friends.
Truly, my neighbours had become my friends.
When our churches closed, I think many of us determined to bless our neighbourhoods in any way we could. What could we give? Our time? Our resources? What could we do to bless others? Sometimes I fear we Christians like to be the strong ones. Yet often it’s when we’re willing to be weak and vulnerable that we grow close to others.
That’s what’s changed. Lockdown has levelled us, and we understand we need each other, not for spare keys, packages and jump leads. Let’s face it, we have all been at home! But we’ve needed company, friends to hang out with. And it’s as we do this that we really begin to do life together. And that’s when deep sharing starts to happen. That’s when we naturally find ourselves talking about faith.
In the Gospel of John, incredibly, we find Jesus in that place of need. Christ, the second person of the Trinity through whom the universe was created, willing to be weak. That’s the wonder of the incarnation. Jesus asks the woman at the well to be his neighbor, to give him a drink of water. This was much more than a very real physical need being met. Asking to share her cup involved a real emotional exchange. This gesture of acceptance must have spoken volumes. Then there is a connection, a chance to talk, the acknowledgment of her pain, as her home situation is revealed. The roles change and Jesus becomes the good neighbour. The great ‘I Am’ reveals himself to a broken woman, as the source of living water, and she becomes a neighbour to her villagers in their own spiritual lostness (John 4:1–45).
Of course, as lockdown is loosening, our families and friends are becoming accessible once more, but something has changed in my neighbourhood and I’m determined not to lose it.