There are three things that matter in property: location, location, location’
Lord Harold Samuel
“We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us really happy is something to be enthusiastic about.”
It was the summer of 2003. I was living in a great little flat in South London with an amazing garden (see picture). I’d spent many months transforming the garden and it was my pride and joy- a place where I loved relaxing after a busy day and a great venue for the many parties I hosted for friends.
But something was missing. I didn’t feel connected. I worked for a central London church that meant I worshipped 5 miles away and I hadn’t really put down roots in the locality. So when I heard of an opportunity to be part of a team living and serving with a church in North London I thought I’d check it out. After visiting the church and exploring the area I felt a big ’yes!’ inside.
I signed up and for the next few years I rented out my beloved flat and moved into shared accommodation in North London.
I could now walk to church. I bumped into the people I met on Sunday throughout the week. I made local friends. I helped with local initiatives. I walked the streets- observing, chatting and praying. I got connected: I put down roots.
Since leaving Suffolk some 30 years ago I have lived in 13 different homes in and around London.
One thing that has too often been missing, however, is this connection with the place and community. Part of this was not being involved with a local church. But it was also a choice on my part not to get too concerned with what was happening all around me, knowing that I would probably be moving on soon anyway. And my social life revolved around my friends who lived all over London anyway.
So what makes the place we live become special and transformative: both a home to live in but also a community to belong to? If we find our deepest fulfilment within relationships then what might that look like if we are thinking of moving house? If we’re not thinking of moving how can we get connected where we are?
Living within our means
There is one crucial decision that will affect all our efforts at integration and local connection; the size and location of the property or room we rent or buy and resultant level of outgoings. The temptation is to always push for the best location and the largest space that our present income will permit. But if connection and relationships are our priority, maybe we should consider the following:
- For a couple, is it possible to find a level of outgoings that can be funded by just one of you working? This would give much more flexibility especially if babies come along or a career break is needed.
- How generous do you want to be? Having time, energy and resources to give to your family, friends, your church and community will hinge on this key decision about home and the lifestyle choices that follow.
- The smaller the house, the less stuff, cleaning, financing and hassle and the more time and resources to prioritise relationships, creativity and serving others.
Connection, connection, connection…
Once we’ve worked out what our overall financial commitment will be, there are 3 fundamental connections to consider:
- Connection with God
If our deepest fulfilment and greatest happiness is to be found in knowing God then maybe we should factor this into our moving/renting/buying decision?
- Is there a church or church group nearby where you can feel spiritually at home? Physical beauty or space is great but what if you’re losing your soul?
- Is there some local provision for your children’s spiritual growth, not just now but over, say, the next 10 years?
- Is it possible to create a ‘worshipping space’ where you’re moving? This could be a corner of a room, a separate room or outhouse or maybe a nearby church or public space.
- Connection with people
Whether we are naturally introverted and love our own space or we are a gregarious extrovert constantly socialising with neighbours and friends we all need to find ways of connecting meaningfully with people around us.
- Is there a church or other social grouping nearby where you can meet those who are both somewhat similar to you (we all need a few soul-mates) and also very un-like you (we all need to reach outside of our comfort zones too).
- If your house move entails a longer commute or more travel to such places as schools or shops where will the cost of lost time fall? Family, God, friends, exercise? Is the trade-off worth it?
- What proportion of life can you do (shops, schools, work, church. recreation etc.) and not have to jump in a car or train?
- Are there local needs that you are passionate about? If you have a burden for refugees, for example, then living in a pretty village miles from anywhere could mean you’ll be missing your calling.
- Are there relatively easy transport links to the people you or your kids care most about? Will your location lead to you being a constant taxi service to your kids in years to come? If you’re thinking of starting a family having relatives or friends nearby will make all the difference- believe me!
- Is there the potential for hospitality- space to feed the hungry and give rest to the weary?
- Connection to the natural world
I have written elsewhere about the importance of connecting with nature and with real ‘things’ not just commodities or technology. To cut ourselves off from the physical world of animals and sunsets, green pastures and quiet waters, simple food and beautiful art is to deny part of what makes us human.
In choosing where to live we may like to consider:
- Is there a garden or a local opportunity to dig, plant, or gather fruit and veg? Even a farmers market can help us connect to our food in a more meaningful way than a Sainsbury’s delivery!
- If there is a particular part of the natural world that makes you feel more alive, is there a local opportunity to thus feed your soul? Mountains may be a struggle, however, for those of us living in London!
- Can you find a home or neighbourhood where there is at least one thing of beauty that can nourish your sense of wonder? A tree outside of a window; a flower-filled window box; even an original fireplace perhaps? Or maybe there is a local art gallery, concert hall or museum?
- Is there some safe, green place nearby where you can be quiet and alone?
- Is there a potential for joining local groups that will help you connect with the natural or creative world? Examples may be hiking, allotments, crafts, art, creative writing, or even such things as bee keeping.
The promised land
I’m sure we all have our dream home and the ideal location. We may find ourselves watching ‘Location. Location, Location’ or ‘Grand Designs’ on the TV. We can easily believe the illusion that if we get our physical surroundings just right we will automatically become happier and more fulfilled.
Scripture, however, reminds us that our core identity is relational and our deepest needs are spiritual. Living in a wonderful house in a beautiful location can be a sad or lonely experience if we are not connected to what gives us purpose and meaning.
It’s great to dream and plan and pray about where we’d love to live. But let’s gain a sense of a higher calling to a home and a place where we can connect so deeply that our presence becomes truly transformative both for ourselves and also for those around us.