How well do you know your neighbours?
Not so long ago I was making a visit to a family to arrange a funeral. I’d left my diary, with the address at home. I knew the road, but was uncertain of the number, so seeing a man in his garden I asked whether he knew where the family I was looking for lived. He had no idea. Searching the recesses of my memory, I took a guess, and knocked at a house just a couple of doors away. It was right!
What surprised me was that the man in his garden had no idea who lived just a couple of doors away from him, especially as the houses were close together. But then I asked myself how well I know my neighbours along the Finstall Road...
We live in a world where people connect with one another in very different ways from just a generation ago. I grew up in a neighbourhood where my mum and dad knew who lived in all the houses around us, down and across from where we lived. This was in the reserved south of England, where we lived in respectable, middle class, semi-detached houses, but we knew people by name. We talked across the fences and the front hedges as people walked to and from the shops, or to the post box or the bus stop. Mrs Woodgate, three doors away, gave me £5 for passing the eleven plus. Mr and Mrs Romer whose garden joined ours at the bottom asked me to babysit their youngest daughter Sharon when I turned 16. The Pratts across the road were mum and dad to my best friend Diane and her brother Derek. Then next door to them on the one side were the Beavis’ with their children Karen and Kenny and on the other side the Skerry’s with Roger, my brother’s second best mate. His best friend Martin lived next door to us with brother Ross and mum and dad Marie and Bill Kearns.... I can remember the day Mr Woodgate died, and the day the Messengers brought their new baby daughter home from hospital. I can remember that Rodney four doors away was an estate agent and his wife was a teacher and they had four daughters. Mr and Mrs Mills, at the top of the close, ran the green grocer’s shop in Trinity Street... I’ll stop there before I bore you with all the other neighbours I remember!
In a new generation, knowing our neighbours so well is much rarer as many people make much closer connections with geographically distant people with whom they talk online, rather than with the people in the adjacent houses. People don’t walk past their neighbours’ houses in the same way as they used to. Online communities based on shared interests are taking the place of communities based on physical proximity.
And yet, even on the new housing estates of our parish, people are still valuing neighbourliness, getting together for street parties and being concerned about elderly and frail neighbours. As Christians, committed to upholding supportive and caring communities, we have an important part to play in fostering these physical community links.
Jesus said ‘Love your neighbour’. How might we do this better where we live?