The value of friendship

Published on: 03 Aug 2013

I’VE recently enjoyed a short holiday in Italy, staying near to Mount Vesuvius, and I was struck when wandering around the streets of the local town, how many people congregated in small squares, on street corners to chat to each other and enjoy each other’s company. It was particularly noticeable in the daytime that older men had come out to socialise with each other.

Our culture is very different; if we see groups of people hanging out on street corners we’re more likely to be suspicious of their motives, particularly if they are younger people, even though they are simply wanting to hang out with their friends.

When I returned to the UK I noticed a newspaper headline, where a government minister was suggesting that Neighbourhood Watch groups could be utilised to keep an eye out for older people on their own, and possibly even help out with basic care needs, another illustration of how increasingly local communities will take on some of the support functions which both local and national government have fulfilled in the past.

Looking at the recent census data for our parish it was interesting to note that a third of the households in Downend and Bromley Heath are made up of single people of all ages.

Almost half our congregation at the Baptist church are single; they value the companionship and the friendships they have made through the church, and the support they can call upon if they need help at particular times of their lives. Our Ladies Enterprise Group, is a good example of how people coming together in shared activities can really benefit those in need of companionship.

We’ve recently started up a new initiative called Tea and Cake, meeting on Monday afternoons between 2.30pm and 4.30pm at the church in Salisbury Road. Initially this will run fortnightly, with the next meetings being on 5th and 19th August. The idea is to offer a place for people to come and enjoy some company, provide a listening ear and to further build the church community.

The Christian faith has always been lived out in community; it’s not a solitary faith. At the moment on Sunday mornings, we’re looking at the letter that the Apostle Paul sent to one of the early churches in Ephesus- in the letter he compares the church to the human body, with Jesus as the head; for the whole body to function, each individual’s part is vital, and as each part does its work so the whole is built up in love.

That is a very positive picture of community that can equally be applied to our own community of Downend, and so I was delighted to read of the Downend Connect initiative being supported by The Voice and both South Gloucestershire Council and Downend and Bromley Heath Parish Council. As more and more people join in with different activities in the community, my hope is that the whole community will be strengthened, and those who experience loneliness will instead experience friendship and love. As a church we will certainly be supporting this initiative, continuing to work in partnership with others to build community in Downend.

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