Why the woman next door may be more important than your immediate family...

Twenty five years ago I lived in Islington – just under four miles from St Thomas Hospital where I was born. And, in doing this, I realise now that I was in line with my times – when in the 1990s, on average, people in the UK lived only five miles from their places of birth.

Today things are very different.

Today, on average, people live 100 miles from their places of birth. Taking my two oldest children as examples – one lives 2 miles from where we were living at the time of her birth (and 12 miles from where we live now); the other lives in Mumbai - 4,500 miles away from St Mary’s Paddington where he was born (although he is soon to move to Paris – a mere 200 miles away.)

The statistics are fascinating because they show so clearly that very many of us are living much further away from our parents and our children than ever before.

Fortunately it’s possible to travel from one of end of the country to the other, or from one side of the planet to the other, fairly easily. But this is, of course, very expensive – in terms of money, time and carbon footprint.

The simple truth is that, for many of us, it is much harder to see our closest family members as often as we would like. We can keep up to date with social media and Skype – but this doesn’t replace just hanging out together and meeting up face to face on a regular basis.

As a result, I would say that it is more important than ever to engage with our local communities and build relationship with the people who are our neighbours.

Last Saturday a group of us from church and the local community threw a wonderful street party – with a free BBQ, free music and lots of free activities for all the family – including donkey rides. We had an amazing afternoon. The sun shone, the bands played, the children brought round curly cheese sandwiches, older people flipped burgers, younger people demonstrated fitness sessions on trampolines and everyone – of all ages - had a fabulous time.

There must have been about a thousand people who came along – all from local streets – and if, like me, every one of those people had about half a dozen conversations with people they’d never met before – then that’s about three thousand new connections. New relationships. And many more conversations with people we know a bit but not that well.

Getting involved with a local church or community group is a really great way of building a network of mutual love and support. And is absolutely fundamental to who we are as human beings.

Jesus told us to love our neighbours as ourselves. And we often think – quite rightly – that he is saying love EVERYONE, even people who are different or far away. But he is also saying love the neighbour who is literally your neighbour. The people who live down your street. Get to know them.

The people who live in a five mile radius of your home may no longer be your immediate family – but they are all part of the one big family of God. And they are the people whose lives you can make a difference to. And they are the people who can make a difference to your life too.

Posted by Martine Oborne