What would you think if I told you that in London, this city of 8.14 million people all rushing to work hard, play hard, and suck the marrow out of life, it was possible to find true, deep, lasting friendships? Sounds crazy, right? At first, I thought so too. My first few weeks in university accommodation here in the city were some of the loneliest of my life. My inner monologue went something like this:
How is it that I live in a building with 800 other university students yet have never felt more isolated? Sat in the dining hall I am surrounded by people, yet feel completely alone. Every introduction, every inquiry about which degree I study, every feigned laugh makes me shudder inside and retreat rapidly to my miniscule room. I can’t tell if it’s the food that the halls serve or the disingenuousness of the attempts at friendship making me feel sick. This is a friendship that smiles at you in the moment but will never extend past the dining hall. When there is conversation, it is just riveting. It’s who’s with who, and which guy got the most messed up on sports night.
I asked a few people at that time how they had managed to bond with others in our halls, and the answer was simple: they got ‘smashed’ together. Get smashed together then smash together, that’s the mantra of the day, the team chant that binds us to one another. If you’re not game with that, then have fun in your two-square-metre bedroom. But I call your bluff. Your drunken exploits do nothing to mask your FOMO, and your ‘friendships’ are worth nothing more than one-night stands for all the trust you place in them.
This problem is not only true for my university accommodation, but for London as a whole. London is rated among one of the loneliest cities in the world, and a big reason for this is its rapid turnover of population. In comparison with other major cities, London’s inhabitants have lived here for six fewer years, meaning that as a Londoner your network of friends is far less established than pretty much anywhere else in the world. Relationships in London are not long lasting, and as a result community is close to non-existent. Sure you might have that regular sports group, or those go-to-guys to grab a pint with after work, but would you invite them to your home for a meal? Would you trust them with your hopes and hurts, and would they trust you with theirs?
Is there any way to exist in this city and develop true friendships and a thriving community?
In my experience, the answer is, ‘Yes!’ Real connections can be forged, even here, among the high-pressure, high-speed, never-ending round of goals, targets, meetings and entertainment. It happens when we put aside our fear of transparency and are vulnerable with others, sacrificing what seems ‘hot’ in the moment for something that will last. Reliable, unconditional friendship that chooses to love even in adversity is possible, and its possible right here in London.
I have found church to be one of the best places for allowing real relationships. This isn’t because Christians are somehow superior to other people, but because of the example of Jesus that they try to emulate. Jesus was a radical in his time in the way he extended friendship to everyone he met, regardless of their social status. He had an extremely higgledy-piggledy friendship group, comprised of many people who society deemed as ‘outcasts’. Jesus made loving people his purpose on earth; he devoted himself to others’ needs.
When his followers – Christians – are doing their best to follow that example, it means that everyone is welcome. It is a safe place for you to be vulnerable, because everyone else is willing to be honest and open too. There is the shared value of love, and of accepting others without judgement. Lots of people, religious or otherwise, do share this value too, but often it becomes overshadowed by ambition and self-interest, particularly here in London. But in church, when it’s working as it should, there is no room for such things; time and energy is instead devoted to encouraging and supporting one another as we do life together in this beautiful, crazy city.
Where’s your community?