My Zoom planning meeting had been scheduled for 4pm and I was ready for the call, but when one member couldn’t connect, it was postponed. As I closed my iPad, I heard some chatter coming from the street outside. I was shocked by my reaction. Speedily I made my coffee, grabbed a cushion and hurried out to sit on my front steps to join the socially distanced gathering. It was so so good.
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.
Something’s changed and we’re all talking about it. In Lockdown we’re getting to know our neighbours!
In our fast moving world of work and travel, neighbours are not usually our friends. They have a different role in our lives. You see, family and friends who live far away are no good when you’re locked out, your car battery needs help with jump leads or you’re out when the package is delivered. That’s the job of 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 organises 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 is good, but as I sat on the steps on my cushion, I knew something big had changed. My neighbours had become my friends. Truly we were meeting each other’s emotional needs – the need for human company, the need usually met by family and friends. It’s a need that can’t be met on Zoom and as I spoke it out to my neighbour friends, we all recognised our growing bond.
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 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 John 4, incredibly, we find Jesus in the 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 neighbour and give him a drink. This was much more than a very real physical need being met. Asking to share her cup involved emotional exchange. This gesture of acceptance must have spoken volumes, and then there’s the acknowledgment of her pain as her home situation is discussed. The roles change and Jesus becomes the neighbour. The great ‘I Am’ reveals himself to a broken woman and she becomes a neighbour to her villagers in their spiritual lostness.
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.