I don’t remember it well, but I do recall a neighbour when I was very young calling round to our house, knocking at the back door – which in itself is unheard of where I live now – and asking my mum for a cup of sugar, or a cup of something. I also recall people dropping into each other’s houses for a cuppa, or leaning on the garden fence passing the time of day.
Of course, things have changed, working patterns are different, mums are out at work with children in preschools or nurseries, and chatting to neighbours just does not seem to happen. We can’t bring back the past but how can we connect with the people around us in the future? Perhaps we need to be a bit more intentional.
When the hurricane that was, according to Michael Fish, ‘not a hurricane’ hit the country I had just moved to a new house and trees and fences came down in the garden and the following morning the street was abuzz with sleepy looking people sharing tools and muscle in order to help each other clear up the debris. I got to know my neighbours in double quick time as we chopped and sawed our way through a tree which was now strewn across both our gardens turning the fence into firewood as it fell. The niceties of saying hello to the new neighbours over a polite cuppa were all bypassed as we got to know each other through necessity rather than choice. My elderly neighbours who lived on the other side came around asking if we needed and bread, eggs or milk.
You don’t share those sorts of experiences without getting to know each other pretty quickly. In fact, when my neighbour eventually had their new fence erected they got the workmen to measure the trellis that they were constructing on the top to make sure they could get a wine glass through it, just in case we were all in the garden at the same time and we could share a glass with each other. We had many a conversation over the garden fence, a number of them answering questions about ecclesiology and Christianity, listening to what’s right or wrong with the church and consequently sharing my faith. I held the towel when the lady from next door got baptised a few years later.
I know life is busy but even Jesus sat down next to a well and asked a lady if she could spare some water, yes we all live lives at a rush and more and more front gardens are being paved over to accommodate the all-important car – or is that cars? – and so we see less and less of the neighbours, but somehow we have to talk to each other a bit more and perhaps it’s not such a bad thing to ask for help even in this fiercely independent world that we live in, after all Jesus did it and a Samaritan woman was so impacted that she told the whole town about her encounter and the Messiah was made know to them all.
My present house is on the market at the moment and I’m already praying that after I eventually move I will have neighbour encounters that open up opportunities to share my faith, there is not a well in the town where people congregate and I can sit and ask passing villagers for some water, and I have no intention of praying for another hurricane to come hit the country so that some fences can get blown down but I guess I can call on the neighbour and ask for a cup of sugar.