Way back at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, wealthy factory owners, such as the Terry's of York or the Crosfield's of Warrington, built huge long terraces of housing for their workers. The houses were usually small, two up two down, with no garden, just a small yard at the back and opening straight onto the street at the front. In those days, of course, there were very few motor cars, and certainly not in these narrow, cobbled streets. This meant it was perfectly safe for the children to play in the street, with the older ones responsible for keeping an eye on the younger ones. When their work was finished, the women would sit on their door-steps and chat to each other, and a good community spirit would be built up, with the women looking after each other's children while the other mother popped to the corner shop, or nipping next door to borrow a cup of sugar
The men, meanwhile, might also be chatting in the street once the day's work was done, or alternatively might be down at the pub, which also was often just at the end of the street, or working on their allotment plot. But often the factory would provide community activity for the men as well. Not long ago, a visitor to St. John's picked up a concert leaflet and commented, "Oh, I do enjoy the Welsh male voice choirs. We don't have them in England, you know." My reply was, "Maybe not, but you do have brass bands". And these were the social events created for the men. It is interesting to think that even back then it was recognised that music is "good for the soul"; a great tonic which improves mental health and creates a sense of achievement and pride as the group bonds together to produce "a joyful noise". I'm generalising, I know, but it is interesting, too, to think that each of the four countries in the UK should have developed different types of music, with the bagpipes of Scotland and the informal, largely fiddle-based musical get togethers in Ireland.
Sadly, from about the 1960's onwards, this situation tended to disappear. To a large extent the old terraces of workers' houses were demolished and all too often, particularly in urban areas, were replaced by tower blocks which, by their very nature, destroyed the community culture. There were generally no communal areas either inside or out, so nowhere where people could sit to chat together and get to know their neighbours. Instead, people tended to become nervous and distrustful, not knowing who belonged in the building or how to get to know them, and so withdraw into themselves and their own family, safe behind their own front door. Sadly, there was nowhere for the children to play either, with the result that some formed gangs and aimlessly roamed the area, sometimes getting up to mischief. At much the same time, new towns and suburban residential areas were created, more and more families acquired cars, and women started to go out to work. All of these things destroyed the community spirit and dependence on one's neighbours.
But have you noticed that "community" is again the buzz word of the day? This fact struck me recently, when I happened to catch an article on "The One Show"- a programme I don't usually watch. It appears that the Horticultural Association has awarded a prize to one garden in each of the four constituent countries of the UK. Each of the gardens has been planned and designed, and will be created, by a community group for the use of the community at large. T his reminded me of a fact that I had barely even registered before, though I did know it, that there are at least two such gardens in this area; one in Conwy and one in Rhos-on -Sea.
It then didn't take much thought to remember what a great role had been played by community groups in connection with the pandemic. There were groups who organised a team to discover all the vulnerable or disadvantaged people in their area, and offer to do shopping, collect medication or even just keep in touch in person or by phone to ensure that people were all right and not suffering in their solitude. Then there were the ones who organised community food banks or even kitchens to provide meals for overworked and exhausted hospital staff who did not have time to organise proper meals for themselves. People experiencing financial difficulties, often as a result of not being able to work, were provided with free food or meals. It really was a wonderful development, often benefitting the helpers as much as those they helped, by giving them a sense of purpose. This same "heart for service", then continued in the response to the plight of the people of Ukraine, whether in the form of donating money or goods or opening up one's home to provide a place of safety for a displaced person, and where a home has been offered, then again the community has sprung into action, offering and giving help in very many different ways.
In fact, it really seems that service to others is an inherent part of the human character, which is a wonderful, heart-warming thought when we consider the current state of our tattered world. And surely this was what God intended us to experience and enjoy. In 1 Peter 4, vv 8-10, we read:
"Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms."
Coincidentally, on May 4, while I was writing this, the devotional "Our Daily Bread" was entitled "A Heart for Service" and Kimya Loder wrote as follows, based on 1 Peter 4:10 and 2 Corinthians 9:12, thus providing the perfect ending for my meditation:
"Serving others was an important part of Jesus' ministry. When He healed the sick and fed the hungry, many were introduced to God's goodness and love. By caring for our communities, we're following His example of discipleship. God's wisdom reminds us that when we demonstrate God's love through our actions, "others will praise God". Service isn't about self-gratification but about showing others the extent of God's love and the miraculous way He works through those who are called in His name."