Andy Parnham tells the story of the Happiness Course he ran for a group of neighbours in west London, organised by a Christian couple with a vision for their street.
I recently ran the Happiness Course in a rather affluent part of west London. I haven’t often found myself in such august company (lawyers, doctors, businessmen and the like), so I was quite interested to see how it went.
I’ve known the hosts for years and was thrilled when they decided to run the course as part of an ongoing project to draw the neighbours closer together and see a fulfilment of ‘thy kingdom come’ on their street. 22 of their neighbours turned up for the initial taster evening, and about a dozen or so came along to the course itself and almost all of them completed it. In fact, they were just as absorbed by the material and reflective in their thoughts as people have been everywhere else. They were mostly couples, which meant an equal number of men and women and encouragingly, the men were as engaged as their partners.
As one of the hosts commented afterwards, ‘People were appreciative and participated fully in the course. It was well attended (average 10, maximum 12) and one felt that people were deriving value from the topics, especially. on relationships and meaning. During the four weeks there was a complete absence of swearing and very little flippancy!’
Perhaps the main point though was that none of them would ever be likely to darken the door of a church building, so the hosts had done a great job in drawing the group together (through street parties and other neighbours’ events). It just shows what can be done – and none of it required more than a willingness to knock on a few neighbours’ doors and invite them into your home!
The hope was to progress through the course topics to discuss questions of ultimate meaning and although this did not exactly happen, it was clear that doors were opened and by individual follow-up, they are hoping to take it deeper. As one of host says, ‘the course has given us a good foundation for further personal work among the neighbours so that when we begin meeting to plan the next street party in June, we will have a head start with these particular neighbours.’
Comments on the evaluation forms indicated the value that all participants got from attending the course, with among the the most useful things they had learned being time to think; that happiness is a choice and that sharing the course experience with neighbours was particularly important.
When asked what they were going to do differently as a result of the course, many mentioned a desire to focus on things that really matter to personal happiness – specifically concentrating more on relationships and less on material things, as well as recognising the importance of forgiveness.
People also commented that there was so much food for thought, the course could easily have run longer and that the content was wider and deeper than they had initially imagined, which is what we often find.
What seemed to be important to the success of the course was the sense that the street ‘owned’ it, and we feel this was responsible for the good attendance. My hosts commented that, in effect, the course has become part of the identity of the street and acts like a precedent for future initiatives, which is really exciting and just what they were hoping. Who knows what God will do next!
Find out more about the Happiness Course
Andy Parnham, March 2016