LETTER FROM REV ROBERT BARTHRAM
"A visitor wouldn’t know which home the children belonged to." This is a comment I have made several times when referring to the street we lived in at my first pastorate in Liverpool. It was a typical Liverpool terraced house with a back yard and a front door almost straight on to the street. Slightly beyond the front door was an inner door which was often shut and the outer door was left ajar so the children of the families living in the road could wander from house to house. Sometimes it was one’s own children in the kitchen sometimes those from up the road.
When we moved to London, things were very different and we missed knowing and being known by our neighbours. We now lived on a busy road and to be honest the adjacent residents were not the friendliest. In a relatively short time both neighbours moved: we assumed our three noisy children were a bit too much for them. The new neighbours were much friendlier but we got to know few other people in the road.
On moving to Reading, after just a few days, we had the strange experience of a laser being directed to our bedroom. In time, we discovered where it had come from and it stopped - not a good welcome to the road. However, that family moved away some years ago, there now being much improved neighbours. Over time, we have got to know some of the neighbours but not many. Having grown up in Southern England that doesn’t surprise me.
During lockdown we, like so many, were out once a week to applaud the NHS and Carers. This was always followed by conversation with immediate neighbours, which we really began to look forward to, but those conversations soon came to an end and it was back to normal until, that is, the Platinum Jubilee. One person in our close had the idea of a street party, two others offered help and they put a note through each letterbox and asked for replies. The outcome was a party on the Thursday Bank holiday, which had a near 100% turnout. It started at 3pm and we expected to be home by about 6pm, eventually we were home by 10pm!
On the Saturday at the Street Party in Watlington Street, I was chatting to a local resident who lives alone and for much of the pandemic had been working from home. He spoke of the isolation and loneliness there had been and how wonderful it was to be there that day with people. He spoke to me about the importance of community and I couldn’t help smiling to myself as I had already decided to write this letter following our Street Party on Thursday.
Clearly, people of many beliefs and none can recognise the importance of community and it is good for anyone to support the building up of community in this troubled world but there is something extra that we believe. For it is part of Christian belief that community is part of being human because we are made in the image of God. For we believe in one God, who is a community of relationships between Father, Son and Holy Spirit and that there is love within God, independent of creation. In God, we see the example of how we are made to be, in relationships as He is: being alone is not how we were made to be. The challenge is to be truly a family as a church. To quote the Church Membership Course recently used, ‘Within God, there are relationships: he is a community and this gives us the model for human relationships and community.’
Yours in Christ,