If you're anything like me, it's easy to go for weeks or even months without seeing your neighbours. I know that people of my grandparents' generation would find this shocking. Indeed when I go to visit my grandad's village in rural Lancashire, a walk down the road isn't complete without saying hello to the various friends he knows in the local area. Life is busy and many evenings and weekends are taken up with socialising, working or volunteering. But there comes a time when, if we want to get to know our neighbours (and surely that's something we should all want?) then we may have to take the initiative.
So here are three very simple ideas...
1) Watch the rugby together.
Sure, not everyone's a rugby fan, but millions of people will be tuning in to England vs Australia in the World Cup tonight. Instead of watching alone or with just your family, why not invite a few neighbours round to enjoy the game? You could put on some food and drinks – and there's no need to worry about the conversation being awkward because the sport will be the main event. It could be a great way to first meet people. If you find yourselves enjoying it then there are plenty more games in the world cup – hopefully England will feature in some of them!
2) Do some baking.
The Great British Bake Off is such a rip roaring success that baking is probably the most popular pastime in the UK right now. But why leave the fun to the people on the TV? Get baking and see what treats you can rustle up! Then, get them wrapped up and deliver your tasty morsels round to the local area. It's amazing how a small act like this can change people's preconceptions of who their neighbours are – and what someone is likely to want when they ring your doorbell. Who knows – you may even get some reciprocal muffins and start a bake-off all of your own...
3) Join something!
Church attendance is beginning to grow again in London, but is still declining in other parts of the country. That decline is also mirrored by the general trend for people to join fewer clubs, societies and other institutions than we used to. But joining something local is the very best way to get to know your neighbours. So, why not seek out a sports team? It could be something you've not played since school – when I dug out my cricket bat 10 years after last using it, it meant a whole lot of new friendships. If sport isn't your thing, how about a pub quiz team? A knitting club? A book club? A trade union or political party? Whatever it is, join the local branch and you'll be amazed how many people live just along the street from you.
Rootedness is good for us. Community is good for us. Neighbours can be very, very good for us. But this isn't just about what we can get out of the deal. It's really about what kind of relationships we want to build. The people we live alongside have a shared interest in our community being the best it can be. Our relational God doesn't want us to be exclusive or to barricade ourselves in. Instead as Jesus showed countless times, those who lived close by but were often thought of as outsiders were brought into his fold – women, Samaritans, people with disabilities, Roman soldiers, tax collectors and more. As ever – Jesus has set the example. And I think if he was in my neighbourhood this weekend, he'd quite like the idea of eating cake while watching the rugby.