About six months ago my husband and I packed up our little family and moved an hour further north to Newcastle. With jobs half sorted, our church behind us and eight years of church planting and pastoring under our belt we were excited for our new season.
In many ways the move represented a blank page. Just as every day starts afresh, our story was yet to be written for all the people we were about to meet and get to know.
We knew some people in our church, having been campus pastors of one of its congregations, but week on week we were being introduced to new friends who were part of the main congregation, and that was about it for who and what we knew about our new area.
Before we moved, however, we prayed about what we wanted from this move and the main thing, on my heart certainly, was FRIENDS.
Now, that’s not to say we didn’t have any before, we did and still do, but having stepped out of the role of being a lead pastor I wanted friends and peers, who, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer puts it, we simply ‘do life’ with. You know the kind, the ones who can laugh with you and cry with you. The ones who understand I will never, ever, remember their birthday but know I will be there in the middle of the night if they need me. The kind of Friends you imagined having, if like me, you were a fan of the TV show with the same name.
It’s funny, I wrote that in the past tense but in reality I am still a massive Friends fan. I still have a line for every occasion…
mealtime – ‘Joey doesn’t share food’,
asked to do some housework task – ‘I would love to, but I just don’t want to.’
going somewhere odd – ‘you know how they say Tulsa is the Paris of Oklahoma’,
when filling out a form – ‘what’s your name? Ross-topher?’
not forgetting the classic furniture-moving cry of ‘pivvvvoooootttt.’
(For those now wildly excited with memories of Friends – before you ask, my favourite episode is ‘the one with all the crying’ – it has everything!)
I suppose I just love the thought of having a tight-knit group of people around me.
The thing is, though, did you ever notice that it was very rare indeed for someone new to come into their group?
So when we moved, aside from wanting our own friends, we also wanted to make friends with our neighbours. Why? Because ultimately we wanted to introduce them to someone who exceeds every friendship humanly possible, Jesus.
And I have to say, God has answered that prayer. Within a few short months we now know all our neighbours and I would go so far as to say we are becoming friends.
My elderly neighbour offers me lifts when it’s raining, so I can pick the kids up from school, my next door neighbour made my husband a wall anchor for his motorbike and thanks to our two sociable sons, we now know all the ‘mums and dads’ too.
I guess if there’s a reason for me posting this today it because despite God opening doors with my neighbours, when an opportunity came up for me to really get to know them I almost didn’t bother.
On Sunday evening when we came home from church we had invited some of our connect group friends round, some of our team from church and a few others. As we drove up outside our house, Mr B boldly said he would go up and ask Jonny if he wanted to come too. Jonny is the dad of one of the kids’ friends who we have been getting to know.
At first I was hesitant. What if my church friends will be a bit overpowering? What if he says no because he thinks we are trying to convert him. What if…
Thankfully my eldest son, at the grand old age of nine, took the choice out of my hands and went and invited him anyway. About an hour into our garden hang-out, marshmallows mid toast, s’mores being devoured, in walks Jonny.
Was there any awkward silence? Nope. Was he weirded out by the God talk? I don’t think so. Did he fit right in? Absolutely. So much so that within an hour he had said to my husband, ‘what a great bunch of friends you have, next time you’re all together, please let me know.”
I think it’s fair to say I am hugely grateful and massively put in my place.
Now, as we journey together, and hopefully strengthen that friendship there will be countless opportunities to share our faith and when, and I am confident this will happen, they will accept our invitation to church, they will know a whole host of people there.
One small act, and we have created a whole new episode of Friends for ourselves, ‘The One with all the Marshmallows.’