It’s a Wonderful Life

Learning Mentor, Gareth Fitzpatrick, writes about how his favourite Christmas film relates to the third lockdown.

Christmas is a time of tradition, and I, like many others have my own. A favourite involves watching old Christmas films with a tub of Cadbury Hero’s. Home Alone (1&2), Elf and A Muppets Christmas Carol are all favourites but the best film of all has to be, ’It’s a Wonderful Life’. It simply isn’t Christmas without watching this classic.

For those who have never seen it let me issue a spoiler alert! 

Set in the sleepy town of Bedford Falls lives a precocious and ambitious young man named George Bailey. George dreams of one day escaping Bedford Falls to travel the world, and make his fortune. However, circumstances dictate that he never achieves his dreams as he selflessly stays in Bedford Falls to look after the family business. As a result he grows increasingly bitter and resentful. One day when his world looks like it is all going to cave in George buckles and contemplates suicide. It is at this point when a guardian angel in training (Clarence) is sent to George’s rescue.

Clarence try’s to talk sense to George but he refuses to listen to reason and angrily concludes that it would be better if he had never even been born! Clarence grants George his wish and shows him what the world would have looked like had he never existed. By doing this Clarence highlights that George’s life made a significant difference to those around him and that the world would have been far worse off without him.

Until George bumped into his guardian angel and was given this unique perspective on the impact of his life he was only able to see the cruel setbacks that led to his perception of being a failure.

I write this the day after the Prime Minister announced that the nation is to go into a third lockdown. We have been dealt yet another setback, it is easy to feel discouraged to the point of giving up. For many the plans we have made have, yet again been thwarted by the restrictions imposed by the Government.

It is in this environment where I can relate to George Bailey, I feel angry that I cannot do the things I had planned, I feel frustrated and of little use.

Then my phone vibrates. It’s a message from my street WhatsApp group and with that I am and I am jolted out of my descending spiral of depression and my mood changes. The message received isn’t necessarily that funny or profound but it has reminded me, (like Clarence’s encounter with George) that sometimes things aren’t that bad after all. Let me explain:

Three years ago my wife and I moved into a new house in a lovely cul-de-sac. One of our hopes, when we moved in was to build good relationships with our neighbours after all Jesus commands us to ‘love our neighbours’. Despite living within throwing distance for the first two years we found it really hard to get beyond the superficial niceties of ‘hi’ and ‘bye’. Then last March the Covid-19 pandemic hit and the nation was forced into lockdown. During this time a friend told me about a street WhatsApp group he set up with his neighbours to encourage each other, offer support, share news updates and generally be a platform to encourage community.

Maybe this was the opportunity we had been waiting for?

So I created invitations, popped on my gloves and with some apprehension set about posting to every house on the street. Thoughts of what if no one joins, what if people think I am the weird nosey neighbour? To my surprise with 24hours 90% of my neighbours enthusiastically joined the group. They were so happy to be part of a community where you can get to know one-another, ask questions, look out for each other, laugh and cry together.  Since setting up the group we have done weekly quizzes, arranged a socially distanced street party, collected shopping for one another and supported each other in the hard times.

As lockdown 3.0 is imposed upon us I reflect on the last year, so many plans have had to been shelved or postponed, we’ve had to adapt and change the way we do things but despite this God has been at work all along. Our street WhatsApp is just one example of this. As we enter 2021 my prayer is that God will opens our eyes and ears to look beyond our circumstances and discern where He is already at work, so that we can put down what we are doing, seize the opportunities and join in by being the hands, feet and words of Jesus to those in our communities.

Gareth Fitzpatrick works for the Diocese of Coventry as a learning mentor for need oriented outreach and evangelism.

To access resources and ideas about setting up your own Street WhatsApp Group please click here.