Know Thy Neighbour: The Story of a Street Party

“People who know and trust their neighbours are less likely to have heart attacks.”[1] There’s plenty of research, and more coming out all the time, showing the surprising benefits of knowing your neighbours well. And for Christians, the motivation is multiplied. We should want to get to know our neighbours not just because it makes us healthier; we do it because loving them is one of the most important commands Jesus gives us.

We should want to get to know our neighbours not just because it makes us healthier; we do it because loving them is one of the most important commands Jesus gives us.

But it’s hard to love your neighbours if you don’t know them. My family moved to Riverstone at the start of 2019 and we went from the close-knit community of theological college student housing, to suburban streets and strangers. The idea to host a street party sat in the back of my head all that year. Two people were responsible for placing it there. The first prod came from Rosaria Butterfield as I heard her speak in interviews about hospitality being a major factor in her own incredible testimony.[2] The second came when I heard Federal MP Andrew Leigh give compelling evidence for the benefits of social cohesion on John Dickson’s new podcast Undeceptions.[3] So, after umming and ahhing with some church friends who live nearby we decided: “Let’s just do it.” (Shout out to my legendary street party team Josh and Em and my wife Merryn! Full disclosure: they all did far more work than I did!)

Easier than Expected

What surprised me was that the whole thing was both easier and better than I expected. Here’s how we made it happen:

  1. We met up for 30 minutes and decided on a time and place, along with things we would need (food/BBQs, chairs/rugs, music, flyers, facebook invites)
  2. We invited people.
  3. We set up.
  4. We partied.
  5. We packed up.

Five minutes before the advertised start time I was worried no one would show up. But people slowly trickled in, and we estimate that over 60 people came and many stayed from early afternoon until well after sunset. The vibe was friendly and relaxed—people quickly settled in to comfortable conversations, the kids loved the street cricket and jumping castle (not on the “must-have” list, but a good draw card! We were fortunate to have access to one for free), and lots of people brought food to share.

Perhaps the best part though was the quality of conversations I had with people. As a minister it’s not that unusual for my conversations to steer quickly to God-stuff. But I spoke to a Sri Lankan man with a Buddhist background for at least 20 minutes about religion and philosophy. He told me about some YouTube videos on Christianity he’d been watching lately. I was able to tell him how unique the concept of grace is and how compelling the person of Jesus is, especially the historicity of his resurrection. The whole conversation was so nice I actually said to him at the end that it was lovely to have a pleasant and respectful conversation about the big questions in life. He agreed.

I admit, we had a bit of an advantage being in a newish area where the tone of the neighbourhood is still being established. I imagine traction might take a while to develop in an established neighbourhood. But I believe more Christians should be the initiators on things like this. Pick a time, stick some flyers in letter boxes, and pray for fruit. 1 in 10 Australians do not know any Christians friends.[4] Maybe you could be their first?

Our post-Christian neighbors need to hear and see and taste and feel authentic Christianity, hospitality spreading from every Christian home that includes neighbors in prayer, food, friendship, childcare, dog walking, and all the daily matters upon which friendships are built. (Rosaria Butterfield)

[1] James Hamblin, ‘Always Talk to Strangers’, The Atlantic, 2014.

[2] You can listen to a short version (6 min) of Rosaria’s story here, or a long version (1 hour) here.

[3] Episode link: undeceptions.com/podcast/social-capital

[4] mccrindle.com.au/insights/blog/faith-belief-australia/