17 September 2013
On Sunday afternoon I was at the most delightful tea party. The hosts were three generations of a young family. The guests were a small number of very elderly people who were brought to the party by volunteer drivers, all under the guidance of a 19 year old coordinator.
The young children romped around. Tea, sandwiches and cakes abound. The chatter was endless and the warmth and joy almost tangible. When it came to 5 o’clock, the guests were helped up and on their way home, ready to face long and lonely days until the next time they met. Indeed, one lady said to me that this monthly tea party was the only time she got out of her house. ‘You’ve no idea what it’s like’, she said. She looked forward to the party immensely.
This all took place in a leafy north London suburb, not the first place we might think of in terms of isolation. But this kind of poverty – poverty of relationships – knows no economic boundaries. It’s a sad and pressing problem
I was there to see for myself a growing cooperation between our Catholic parishes and a national charity which promotes contact with the elderly. This simple act of generosity is rich in its rewards. There are hundreds of similar groups across the country. The elderly love it, saying that it not only breaks the dreadful burden of isolation but recreates a pattern of friendship in their lives. The volunteers, the host families, the drivers all speak of their joy and satisfaction at the contribution they make. It’s winners all round. This is a practical expression of our Christian faith and it is loving work, recreating a sense of community, centred round the family home.
In fact that is the crucial point: the meetings do not take place in a community centre or church hall. They take place in a family home and that is an eloquent and powerful expression of welcome and inclusion for the guests. Here is genuine friendship.
Volunteers do a great job. They know the joy of giving and it’s so much better than simply looking after number one.