The new Rector at my church began a sermon a few weeks ago by pointing out how many of us now live in fragmented societies, where many activities are now done with people with whom we have only a very limited relationship. For example, our work colleagues are often not also our neighbours, or may be people with whom we have little or no social contact outside of the workplace. People in our congregation may only come across our paths when we meet to worship. Contrast this with societies where many activities are done with people whose paths we will cross frequently, whether for business or social reasons. There is a sense that such fragmentation can result in a certain indifference or less caring for those around us.
We have seen over the past week a vivid example of such indifference, with the images of a toddler in China run over by a truck and several passers-by ignoring the body. People have their reasons for not wanting to be involved with others whom they do not know, and we often look at incidents such as this and say to ourselves “I would act differently if I met a stranger in need”. But are we ever tested? A visitor from Uganda commented this past week about how important it is to mind other people’s business, but is that something that is easy when we barely know the people around us?
Ironically, we are often glad for opportunities that can bring us closer to those we know only a little or not at all. At the weekend, we hosted a dinner for a handful of other parishioners, in what is called a Foyers group. Such groups, numbering about 8-10 people, are meant to be relaxed, open gatherings, with no real agenda other than the opportunity to get to know each other better. In a church congregation, the different times of regular services mean that one could pass weeks, months, even years attending services regularly at a given time, but as others do the same your paths may never or rarely cross. It’s revealing then to see how much you share with people with whom you are supposed to have something in common. Our group got into some lively discussions about our personal lives and views about developments within our congregation, and it will be interesting to see how it gels over coming months.
But, if getting to know someone a little better can help us break down some of the causes of our indifference, then these occasional gatherings will be important. It was funny to find around the dinner table at least two people who were neighbours in the same condominium and fellow parishioners, but who had never met before. In that sense, informal groupings like Foyers groups and the opportunities they offer for getting to know other people can and do serve a wonderful purpose.