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Cut-off Community

What does community look like when you’re in lock-down?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed a lot over the past couple of years how we regularly get told about the importance of relationships; good, healthy, positive relationships. ‘They’re really important… make sure you don’t cut yourself off from people’ is a regular statement. And indeed, it is an important one. Humankind is built upon relationships. We read in the creation story how God makes Eve for Adam because, in God’s words, ‘it is not good for man to be alone’ (Gen 2:18). And God is centred around relationship; both within the Trinity and between God and humanity. To go all theological for a second, God the Trinity has been described as a relationship between three parts (the Father, Son and Holy Spirit), a relationship held together by what is at the core of God’s identity, and that is love – God is love (1 John 4:16). The Trinity has been argued about for centuries, but what seems to be agreed upon is that it is an intimate relationship between the three parts. But God also has a relationship with us; Jesus died so that we could have a personal relationship with Him today by taking the sin of the world and dying so we didn’t have to. Christianity is regularly described as a relationship, not a religion. Therefore, if so much of faith is built upon relationship, if what is meant to drive us as Christians is based on relationship and community, what does it look like to be community when the nation is in lock-down? That’s a massive question and one that isn’t going to be answered in just a few hundred words, but I just want to start to provide one or two suggestions to what this looks like for us.

Firstly, we need to acknowledge that during lock-down, community looks radically different, but not completely absent. If most of us were to define community, we were probably say something like ‘a large group of people who all share something in common – for example, where you live, jobs, hobbies etc…’ This would be correct to an extent. Dictionary.com defines a community as ‘a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage.’ I’d like to highlight the phrase ‘of any size’. We often think of communities as large groups, but did you know they could be made up of just 5 people, or even less? Community is going to look different in lock-down, but it is still there. Your ‘normal’ community might not be right with you, but there may be others. That could be your family, or people you connect with via social media.

Social media will also have a massive impact on what community looks like in this time. According to Statista, there is an estimated 2.96 billion people on social media around the world and in 2019, 45 million people in the UK had a social media account, that’s more than two thirds of the nation! So, whilst our community may feel incredibly small, and it is to an extent, it also has the potential to be the biggest it’s ever been. We can connect with hundreds of people with a couple of clicks of a mouse or taps on your phone. And I want to challenge you to do just that over these coming weeks. My challenge to you is to try and talk to three people each day. They may be people who you know well and see regularly, or perhaps who you haven’t talked to for a little while. Either way, just because you can’t physically meet up with people, it doesn’t mean that you can’t communicate at all.

But what if you don’t have social media? What does community look like for you?

Well lock-down doesn’t mean that you are completely cut off from everyone. Of course, we have a responsibility to follow the government guidance and legislation on social distancing and public gatherings, even more so if we are unwell ourselves or live with others who are, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t go out at all. At the time of writing, the government are advising that people go out for exercise every day, we can go to the shops for essential shopping, and to the doctors for important medical issues. These are all likely to involve seeing other people. Community for you might become those who you bump into on the streets or in the shops, not physically though because you have to be at least 2 meters away from everyone! Many people also live at home with family. Get to know them better than you do already! And why not phone people, text people, write letters and post them! There are still opportunities to be in community with others, we just need to be more creative with what that looks like. There have been some incredible videos doing the rounds on social media of people on their balconies in Italy singing to each other and putting on mini shows. Yes, they are a physical community in a physical place, but friendships are forming which never existed before and when the world gets back to normal, it will be a very different place. If we continue to build community and grow in relationships with one another, however that looks, we will come out of this in greater unity and with a greater sense of what community is. And in turn, the interaction will be a massive benefit to those around us as there is evidence to show how it has the potential to lift moods alongside other health benefits.

So what does community look like when you’re in lock-down? Very, very different, but not gone. Maybe more virtual, but not necessarily so. But what a great opportunity this is for us to get to know our families better, to reconnect with those we have lost contact with, and to get creative in how we build community.