Maggie Harding’s neighbours decorate their external window sill with ornaments, trusting those who pass by not to take them. Inspired and challenged by this simple act of faith, which results in everyone feeling better about themselves and their community, she asks – do you have the faith to do something similar in your street?
I love my street! Sadly we’ll be moving in the next six months or so, but as I reflect on what I will miss, the street and the lessons I’ve learned about neighbourliness are near the top of the list.
We live in the North West and the street is named after the Eden River which flows nearby. It’s very appropriate! According to my dictionary, Eden means essentially great delight or contentment and it’s no accident that Adam and Eve’s earthly paradise is described as a garden – a well-watered, fruitful place with plants and flowers.
So what’s so special about it? It’s a fairly busy road in a mixed area of terraced housing most of which opens straight onto the pavement – there are no front gardens here. The houses are a mixture of rented and owner occupied and there’s a university campus in the vicinity so there are lots of students coming and going. Although it’s not known as a difficult area there’s been a fair amount of crime in the street: it’s sadly not uncommon for us to see police in the area and a neighbourhood watch group has recently been formed.
But the street is a delight to walk down. Who needs front gardens? Nearly every house uses their doorstep or window sill (or both!) to lift our spirits – there are window boxes; plant pots on doorsteps; hanging baskets and heart-shaped wreaths.
It’s not just window boxes and plant pots. As well as taking pride in their homes and displaying their gardening skills, my neighbours are quietly demonstrating their faith in all who pass by. In an act of trust that defies the possibility of crime and theft, the external window sill of one house in particular – right on the pavement – is adorned with ornaments like an indoor mantlepiece. On either side of a beautifully maintained planter – there is a candle in a pretty pot which says ‘Home sweet home’ and a star-shaped soapstone with ‘Tell a beautiful story’ on it. Maybe the problem is I’ve lived in London and it made me distrustful – we did lose plants from outside our house – but we’ve had visitors from all over the country comment on it too. These decorative items would be so easy to pick up and pop in a pocket. But we have lived here for nearly four years and they are still there.
As well as admiring their faith, I am struck every time I pass these houses by how it makes me feel. As well as just enjoying seeing beautiful things, and feeling pride in the street and the area, it’s made me think how good it feels to be trusted. I know that there are people living in a poorly maintained block of rented houses on our street who are viewed with suspicion and mistrust as soon as they leave the house (I know this because I’ve heard the way some of my neighbours talk about them) so this is a powerful act – for everyone.
Studies show a correlation between low self-esteem, loneliness, and social connectedness in relation to trust (McWhirter, 1997 for one). For those of my neighbours who are struggling with life and may be losing their self-respect, or for anyone who had had a bad experience of crime can such a small thing really make a difference? It may seem amazing, but I believe it’s true – recognising an act of faith, and seeing it rewarded can make people feel better about themselves and those around them.
In these days of division and fear, of labels and ‘othering’, this simple act packs a powerful punch. I believe God calls us to choose to believe the best about people and give them the benefit of the doubt. This visual and visible act, quietly witnesses to the truth and value of that. What an easy but powerful way to demonstrate our faith in our neighbours and humanity as a whole. Imagine what it would communicate to the world if our homes lead the way in this?
Living on this street has inspired me to up my game in terms of plants and baskets, and the lesson of trust will stay with me. But I’m sorry to say our window sill is currently bare. So the question is, in the future, wherever I am, do I have sufficient faith to go and do likewise? Do you?
Maggie Harding works with the Livability Community Engagement team and edits the Community Engagement eNews.
She lives in the North of England with her husband Carl, who is an Anglican curate, and two black cats.