Several years ago, I began the process of re-orienting my entire way of life within the proximity of my neighbourhood out of a longing for a more integrated way of living and a deeper experience of connection and community. I began deceptively simple practices that I now think have the potential to be staggering in their scope in helping us and others live well. My imagination was sparked for another way of living and being.

For most of my life, I lived on adrenaline and deadlines. Neighbours were marginalized by my busy life. The few I knew usually received friendly and quick hellos as I was coming or going in my car. A culture built on speed and scale tends to neglect relationships—especially those deemed optional, which is how neighbours are often viewed.

Then, I moved to East Vancouver, and without realizing it, I slowly began shifting my lifestyle practices. I sold my car and began to use transit or my bike. I built a food garden and sought gardening tips from my Italian neighbours. I eventually started to know my neighbours by name and began inviting a few in for a drink or a meal. I learned how to borrow things from neighbours (especially tools) instead of insisting on having my own, which affirmed our interdependence.

Our lives have become so fragmented, privatized and independent—often setting a course for isolation and alienation. We have learned to function in our daily lives without knowing even one neighbour’s name. It takes time to get to the place where you know your neighbours and can experience connection and a sense of belonging in a neighbourhood. Simple acts can be so meaningful to people, especially if they are feeling isolated (and Vancouver Foundation research has revealed that one in four people in our city is isolated ). Small gestures that remind people they are seen, thought about and known can help us all feel less alone.

The second year I was here, I began hosting regular soup nights, inviting my immediate neighbours to drop in for a simple meal of homemade soup. We eventually averaged about 35-45 people, with almost every age demographic represented. Most people tend to gather with their “tribes,” so people loved it. A few times, I was greeted at the door by someone saying they came because they wanted to meet the woman who invites strangers into her home!

The majority of my neighbours have lived here for 10, 20 or 30-plus years, yet most only knew a few other neighbours by name. I was the newbie, and yet I found myself introducing neighbours to each other. Now, the majority have exchanged emails, and many have even shared their house keys.

Once we had weaved together a bit of social fabric as a neighbourhood, we joined hands and collectively sponsored a refugee family, raising $50,000 and welcoming them as they moved in across the street. Working together fast-tracked relationship building as we balanced diverse opinions and personalities. You sacrifice when you are committed to something larger than yourself and doing what can only be done together. Getting up close to people doesn’t create problems as much as it reveals issues (think of iron sharpening iron—sparks fly!). We don’t develop our character in isolation, but rather, it grows in the context of our relationships, in the tensions and resolutions.

Author and theologian James M. Houston highlights that there is no such thing as personal maturity but only “social maturity.” I mature at the pace of the community of people around me as we work out and grow through conflict, stress, acceptance, forgiveness, differences, struggles, etc. We need each other—especially those unlike us—to grow our awareness of ourselves and to mature. These relational dynamics contribute to helping us all become more fully human and alive.

Sociologists have been sounding the alarm regarding our plummeting social capital; the absence of it is impoverishing our lives and communities. It is what builds civil society (which contributes to a stronger democracy). There is a growing understanding of the richness of life that has been lost within our fragmented and isolated lives, and attention is now being given to restoring the historic nature of neighbourhoods. The close proximity of neighbours and running into them frequently is what builds social capital—the relational fabric in a community. Could it be that this social connectedness contributes to a person’s sense of well-being more than we have understood and, shockingly, that our own maturity and personal thriving is connected to our neighbourliness? Maybe this is why Jesus declared loving your neighbour as primary (Mark 12:28-31).

Our most deeply-held principles and maturity impact those who may or may not be friends but are within our realm to include, notice and care for. When we take an interest in our neighbours, we begin to encompass universal ethics: you won’t steal from or slander them or feel superior to them but will reflect truth-telling, kindness, empathy, patience and forgiveness. We move away from prejudices and hate, which shrink not only our hearts but also our humanity, and ultimately, our society. It’s far easier to care for those we love. More revealing of our morality is our relationship with our neighbour, who is easily ignored.

These common ethics and practices enable us to belong to one another across all kinds of divides. If we disregard, despise or neglect those in closest proximity to us, we may contribute to their isolation and maybe even our own. Our common deep need for goodness gets practised and honed in the neighbourhood, in relationship with others, not just in private. And what our neighbourhoods embody is what our society becomes.

Our culture often feeds the delusion that we can live autonomously and self-sufficiently. We cannot. We need each other, and neighbourliness helps us practise that reality. In the process of practising that goodness toward the other, both we and our neighbours may find ourselves flourishing and discovering what it means to live well by loving well.

Karen Reed lives in East Vancouver, B.C., and has been an urban worker with Mission Canada for 14 years. This article appeared in the April/May/June 2024 issue of testimony/Enrich, a quarterly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. © 2024 The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Photo courtesy Karen Reed.

  1. “Connect & Engage 2017 Report,” The Vancouver Foundation, accessed January 31, 2024,

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