By Bekah Stoneking
COVID-19 has changed nearly every aspect of our lives. The ways we connect with our church families, pursue education, and even the ways we grocery shop has been affected by this virus and the safety protocols surrounding it. Another significant part of our lives that has been altered is our obedience to the Great Commandments—particularly the one about loving our neighbors as ourselves.
Arguably, one of the most loving things we can do for our neighbors during this time is to practice social distancing. But social distancing doesn’t have to mean sacrificing relationships. Here are some ideas for ways you can harness time, technology, and a little tenacity to build relationships and share the joy of Christ with your neighbors.
Vulnerability manifests in many ways. Consider ways you can give your time to care for your more vulnerable neighbors. Providing yard work, car washes, or grocery delivery are practical ways to use your time to love the vulnerable around you—including the elderly, single parents, the immunocompromised, and families who may be missing a parent who is an essential worker. Single people or others who are living alone would also be blessed to have someone help carry some of these tasks.
Or, if you don’t have an abundance of extra time, remember that little things can go a long way. Picking up an extra pack of toilet paper or can of Lysol and leaving it with a neighbor can be a significant act of service!
You can also use your time to intentionally pray for your neighbors. The next time you go outside for some sunshine and exercise, go on a prayerwalk around your neighborhood. Pray for your neighbors by name as you pass their homes. Pray for the essential and frontline workers in your community. Ask God to help you see the needs around you and to help you think of ways you might meet those needs.
As our churches gather online or in other creative ways, invite others to join in. Then, invite your neighbors to grab a snack and have a casual conversation over Zoom. Talk about the sermon, action points, or any questions people may have. Ask God to work through you to build a connection between your unchurched neighbors and your local congregation. And, as you do this, involve your church and the resources you have access to in helping to meet the physical, relational, and spiritual needs in your community.
Another way to harness technology to love God and others is to share encouraging Bible verses online. Consider including pictures of activities your kids are doing to learn the verse or pictures of your family putting the verse into action this week. Build community by inviting others to share photos of their own. Create a neighborhood hashtag for your neighbors to use when sharing content online.
Use this hashtag to gather neighbors together for other online activities, like read-alouds of your children’s favorite books. Older children can practice their reading fluency by leading read-alouds of their own. Or, coordinate with other parents to purchase several copies of a book and create online book clubs for teens, kids, or entire families to participate in together.
Hosting an online talent show is another way to gather your neighbors. Invite the kids who have missed dance recitals, band concerts, or other performances to don their uniforms and costumes and show off their talents. Use Zoom or have parents upload short videos to your neighborhood’s secure Facebook group. Use this space to cheer on the talented youngsters in your community.
Some other fun ways to connect with your neighbors online include:
- Posting a silly, serious, or thought-provoking Question of the Day on your neighborhood Facebook page to spark new conversations and connections
- Creating an editable Google spreadsheet for local business owners to share details about their products and services
- Setting up a secure Google Doc for your child and her friends to write stories or keep a journal together
- Have theme days and encourage neighbors to dress-up and share family photos in a central location
Get creative with sidewalk chalk. Draw pictures and create beauty for others to enjoy. Write Bible verses and encouraging words on your driveway. Take your kids to their friends’ houses to leave fun notes on their driveways or sidewalks.
If you live in a cul-de-sac or on a quiet street, use sidewalk chalk to create a giant hopscotch game or a fitness path including differently-shaped lines to follow, circles to jump in, and blocks with challenges like, “10 jumping jacks” or “20 squats.” Invite your neighbors to add on to the courses you create. Enjoy hanging out in your yard and watching others as they play on your paths.
Play in your windows. Dress them up with window chalk paint. Have theme weeks where everyone decorates their windows with a similar motif. And, if you have really fun neighbors, celebrate Christmas in spring! Put up your lights and lawn decorations and enjoy a walk or car ride with your family to admire all the lights.
Another way to use creativity to bond with your community is to work together to encourage essential workers. Hang posters and banners thanking frontline workers in your neighborhood or provide a basket of treats and essentials for delivery workers. Work together to collect supplies for these baskets, or food and supplies to share with your church’s food pantry.
Also, be on the lookout for ways to encourage your neighbors who are reaching milestones. For example, you can honor graduating seniors by creating door hangings, mailbox decorations, or yard signs for them to display. As your neighbors miss out on important celebrations during this season, show them that they are remembered, celebrated, and loved.
Social distancing doesn’t mean our relationships outside of our homes cease to exist. Encourage your family members of all ages to send snail mail to neighbors, friends, and extended family. Beyond cards and letters, you might especially brighten someone’s day by mailing pictures to color or beautifully illustrated Bible verses.
Also, make sure to get some face-time. And beyond regularly connecting with others on video chat, have a little fun by having a theme night with another family. Select a theme, encourage everyone to create their own costume to match the theme, then sit down to dinner with your friends (via your phones, tablets, or computers) and enjoy everyone’s goofy outfits.
Then, take the fun outside. With your porch, balcony, or driveway as your stage, play music, perform skits, host read-alouds, or simply enjoy your own, personal activities outside at the same time someone else is. Sometimes, simply seeing another person is just the mental and emotional boost someone may need. Scheduling some driveway hangouts where everyone interacts from a distance or even sings worship songs together can be a great display of how the love of Christ reaches us and extends beyond the walls of a church building.
Whether you are overflowing with love and hope, itching to release some pent up creativity, or you’re in need of a dose of goodness, yourself, this season is ripe with opportunities to think outside the box and love your neighbors, create joy, serve others, and cultivate connections while social distancing.