My neighbour was recently widowed. She now often talks about ‘meals for one’ and doesn’t open the door to anyone after dark. She is one of the UK’s 5 million over 60’s who consider the TV to be their only source of companionship.
I am an activist, which means I’m quite busy. When I’m not working full-time in London, I’m volunteering as a Street Pastor or drug educator or involved in some other church program. Recently I was rushing out of the front door to go and ‘do mission’ when I saw my neighbour who clearly wanted to talk. I was struck at this point by how we can so easily compartmentalise our lives. We have a work bit, a family bit, a church bit and then a mission bit and it’s so easy to go through life ticking boxes, crossing things off our to-do list, and then feeling good that we’ve ‘got it over with’.
Churches are increasingly being encouraged to run ‘community franchises’. There is nothing inherently wrong with that; Street Pastors and Foodbank, for example, are fantastic initiatives that are making a real impact in people’s lives. However, they are often addressing the symptoms of a bigger problem and we can’t forget to try to tackle the root at the same time.
Jesus said there were two main commandments; ‘Love God and love your neighbour as yourself.’ He makes it sound so simple. With a growing epidemic of loneliness and unhappiness, what are we as the church – as Christians – to do? Our recent ‘How is my neighbour?’ day happened not because we have all the answers but because we want to facilitate a conversation about this issue. We want to invite people to journey with us as we ask ‘Who and how is my neighbour?’
How do we stop our neighbours becoming just more statistics and our churches just running more programs? How, instead, do we start to genuinely know, care for and love our neighbours?