Developing a friendship
For most of us, our memory of the pandemic will be dominated by the words ‘Stay At Home’. Yet, hidden within the rules limiting our social interactions there was an exception: single adult households could form a bubble with another household. As a result, for most of the pandemic, I was in a bubble with Adam and Hannah Thomas, and their children Reuben and Abbie. This allowed us to spend time together without restrictions even during the strictest lockdowns. Though it was not apparent to us immediately, we had stumbled upon a form of hospitality that prompted all of us to re-evaluate what hospitality actually means and what it can look like.
Every weekend I would head to the Thomas’ never really knowing what to expect. Each time I walked through the front door, Reuben and Abbie would greet me with their plans of what we were going to do that day. While my weekdays were ruled by routine and quietness, the spontaneity and noise of a family home were a welcome change, but what surprised me most was that I quickly stopped feeling like a guest. Instead, it felt like I was invited to be part of their family life with no ceremony attached.
Without feeling like we needed to keep up appearances, our time together always felt more honest and we were able to share how we were really feeling. This was such a welcome break during a time when I felt the need to reassure people that I was fine and was sometimes a bit afraid to admit when I wasn’t. This honesty has had a wider and more long-lasting impact on me. I was able to see the joys and challenges of raising small children, something I hadn’t experienced before which has widened my perspective of those around me and informed the way I pray for them and seek to support them.
For me, my friendship with the Thomas’ continues to be something I treasure and feel honoured to have. It’s also made me appreciate that hospitality can be so much more than I previously thought. I don’t have the space or the budget to invite people around for meals on a Sunday, but I do have a kettle and cups of tea, time to invest in others and a life I can share with them. When we think of hospitality like this, it becomes much less daunting and much more accessible.
I’ve also begun to realise how rare close and honest friendships can be in our society, especially with people whose lives differ from ours, but wouldn’t it be amazing if our churches were filled with deep intergenerational friendships between people who otherwise might not have even met? What a great way for us to love one another and enjoy our spiritual family! In a world that is so divided, these relationships open up opportunities to show others the love and unity available in Christ.
So, I’d like to encourage you to look around your church next Sunday and think about the relationships you see. Is there a friendship you could strengthen or maybe someone you could reach out to for the first time? You don’t have to go to the extreme of forming a bubble with them, but are there ways you can share your life in a ceremony-free kind of way?
Long term hospitality
It didn’t take long for our weekends together to become as regular as our children’s fancy dress costumes. Any sense of formality was quickly lost, and menu planning abandoned. Instead, we raided the kitchen to assemble impromptu picnics in the garden or, when the weather required, on the dining room floor, we are based in Wales, after all!
When we first began our bubble with Caroline, we were primarily motivated by concerns about her well-being while she was living alone, but we soon saw benefits for all of us. With the closure of school and toddler groups, Reuben and Abbie’s worlds became very small very quickly and by the weekend, they were always ready to see someone other than mum and dad. Caroline came over, full of smiles and energy, ready to hear about every new thing they had learnt that week and catch up on the Octonauts episodes they had watched. Having another adult around was invaluable for their development, as well as their entertainment.
For us as parents, we really appreciated the opportunity just to spend time together and we enjoyed the richness of random conversation and spontaneous activities. As introverts, we wouldn’t have been able to cope with elaborate hospitality plans every weekend, but Caroline was happy to be subjected to all of the mess, the laundry and the arguments that were part of family life in lockdown.
This was definitely an adjustment from how we’d previously hosted people from church, but our bubble proved to be a wonderfully relaxing space amid the stress of the pandemic. It was an opportunity to build a relationship, to share and exchange interests, and to serve one another. It was an opportunity for us all to learn a bit more about what it means to be family in Christ.
As we’ve moved towards a ‘new normal’, our lockdown bubble is something we haven’t wanted to leave behind. It’s a joy to be able to spend more time with other members of the church family too, but our pandemic bubble has left a lasting effect on our family’s friendship with Caroline and it’s made us value the opportunities of unplanned, long-term hospitality. The children are still delighted if Caroline turns up at the door unannounced, and there is always enough food because no-one minds if the meal is a little unusual.
Although this has become normal for us, we realise it can be strange to others, especially family members and friends outside the church, but we pray this strangeness will give us opportunities to speak about Jesus, who has made us members together in God’s family.
Looking back at the last few years, it’s easy to focus on the things we missed out on, but we remain thankful for what we gained through our pandemic bubble – a deeper friendship, and lasting lessons about sharing our lives with someone else.
Adam and Hannah Thomas