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Who is my neighbour? Why and how to love our literal neighbours

February 15, 2014

Sam Stephens is the founder of a website that enables you to share things and skills with your neighbours. It has a growing membership of 33,000 in the UK and around the world. In this guest blog post, Sam encourages us to love our literal neighbours and we suggest some top tips for how to go about doing this.


Who is my neighbour? When I read the story of the Good Samaritan my interpretation to this question has always been a slightly temerous “everyone”. And while this might be part of Jesus’ intention in telling the story, the question Jesus poses the lawyer is “Now which of these three do you think seemed to be a neighbour to him who fell among the robbers?”


I’m making two points here.  Firstly, perhaps seeing everyone as our neighbour all of the time is unhelpful. Being a neighbour to everyone is overwhelming and for most of us a call that meets deaf ears. That said, we are called to “love our neighbour”. What does that mean practically? Perhaps we should just start with our literal neighbours. If we took responsibility for our streets – praying for them, taking the initiative to get to know them, and building a sense of community – our communities would be changed. We would be doing something radical, something that challenges the prevailing orthodoxy to “build a castle” and be independent of everyone around us. Truly we would be salt and light.


This norm of independence and the isolated living that goes with it runs deep in all our neighbourhoods but it can be punctured. For me, it started when I needed some milk. I knocked on the door of my neighbours and they were pleased to help. Soon we were sharing more and more things and becoming good friends. It was out of these experiences that the idea of Streetbank emerged; a website that allows you to share things and skills with your neighbours. As Christians, I believe we are called to initiate, to take the risk to say hello and to get to know our literal neighbours. It doesn’t take much to start the process and the opportunities to love and serve may soon follow. You may find the modern equivalent of a “traveller who fell among robbers” right on your doorstep – and truly, they will be your neighbour!


Secondly, Jesus question subverts the lawyer’s question. Who is your neighbour? Your neighbour is anyone you are neighbourly too – anyone we show mercy to. We are called to love our neighbours. Loving our literal neighbours is a great place to start, we know where they live. In time, we know who they are and what they need. In time, we can develop deeper relationships even than the Good Samaritan and the traveller.


It’s not always easy. I was in Birmingham last weekend, staying with friends whose next door neighbour avoided all contact with everyone and crossed the street when he saw people coming. After some time of consistent friendly neighbouring, he accepted an invitation to their party, met other people and slowly became more deeply integrated into a supportive local community. It took time and effort but he was their neighbour so they persevered. A great encouragement for me to take seriously Jesus’ call to “go and do likewise”.


The Breathe team loves Streetbank as a great starting point for making those initial connections with our literal neighbours. Here are 3 simple ways for moving forward:

1) If you’re not already part of the Streetbank movement, click here to get stuck in. It’s free and easy to join and you’ll be amazed at the variety of items and skills that are being shared on your doorstep.

2) Check out the Streetbank Bible Study and Action Pack for useful resources that will help you to get others in your church on board. If you’re part of a small group, why not use the suggested Bible study about sharing in your community, and pray together about ways of making positive connections with your literal neighbours.

3) Not only does Streetbank connect you with your neighbours and encourage generosity, but it’s a great way of reducing waste and consumption through re-use and sharing. Tell your friends, blog, tweet etc. Click here for more suggestions about how to spread the word.

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