2020 On the 13th floor, Cup of tea spirituality

'Nearly every Friday a group of friends and neighbours, from different Church backgrounds or none, meet in our flat on the 13th floor of our Council block in Hackney, East London, to share the Gospel and support each other in the ups and downs of life.

The group has been meeting for over 25 years and several who are still faithful belonged to the original core group. Some have moved away to other parts of the country but a bond remains and we continue to stay in touch and pray for each other.

How did this group begin? When we decided to move to the East End of London, traditionally the first port of call, and home to the different waves of immigration arriving in London, our first home was a one-bedroom flat over the Anglican Church of St Michael and all Angels in the nearby neighbourhood of London Fields.

Soon we made friends with the parishioners, and with the assistant priest there and whose office was in a room opposite ours. Quickly we felt on the same wave length, and we shared stories and our daily troubles and joys. We decided to meet and pray together. We were concerned by very concrete issues. Could we do something for the many people living on the street? Several of our new friends had lived this experience themselves so we decided to pray regularly about it.  Eventually a night shelter was started during the winter months using Church halls from different Churches in the area.

Fellows Court neighboursFellows Court neighbours

After a year we moved to a council flat, 13th floor, on a very large estate called Fellows Court. Our friends never stopped coming, and others from the neighbourhood joined them as well as from our new parish, St Monica's, with its 95% African congregation. Our building at that time was well known for the exchange of drugs. The situation has improved but we are now experiencing an increase in gun crime in the area. 

It is very international in our building. In the ten flats on our landing there are hardly two families from the same country or religious background! We are all on friendly terms, although as everywhere people live busy lives working at all hours of the day and night. Since we often welcome little sisters from other countries for studies or to learn English, we are happy to reflect this internationality in our community life too.

At one Friday meeting I asked each of the friends who were there what made them continue to come through thick and thin?

Here are some of the things that were shared:'What is important for me about Friday night is to learn more about the Gospel. I enjoy the company ofothers, especially those who do not often get out and have the chance to relax with others. We are like a little community. We all come from different backgrounds and religious traditions. If it is someone's birthday and they have no family we become their family, in fact we are a family. It is a time for a chat, to catch up with local news and family news and those who used to be part of the group but who have moved away. We share tips about health issues and experiences in hospital or with social services. It is a nice end to the week, a Christian end to the week. I like it when we pray for other people's needs.'

Another continues: 'I like reading the Gospel together and discussing it and I find solace in it. The power of prayer is precious. It is just nice to get together.'

Her friend adds her word: The main thing for me is the coming together with a cup of tea. I like the hospitality.

Little sister Claire chips in: 'A cup of tea is more than a drink. It has a spirituality! I like to look out of the window from our flat on the 13th floor. The whole town is out there and inside we are together, we l augh together and enjoy each other's company!'

'I like to have a bit of fun and eat cake and ice-cream!' adds another. Someone else explains the surprise element for her:  'To begin with it is the cup of tea and a sharing of food that is important. We share in a very open and free way and everybody has a chance to say what they think. What is surprising for me is the new insights that emerge.'

Another continues: 'I like the atmosphere. We are all one. Our circumstances of life have all been so different. It is the Gospel that brings us together from such different walks of life. The Spirit is in us and among us. Some live on their own and hold a hidden treasure that they have the opportunity to share.'

A friend from the other side of London whose sister lives in the area interrupts: 'We gain from it, we gain from what each one has to say.' A neighbour from next door and belongs to a Hindu grooup adds: 'I like to share different view points.'

Another neighbour prays for all who cannot be with us, especially for a faithful member of the group whom we often visit at the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Time for a tuneTime for a tune

Another faithful member from the beginning speaks from his heart: 'I like the comradeship and to have someone to talk to. But above all what is important for me is to hear the word of God in the Bible, both the Old and the New Testaments. When I get home I think about the Bible reading, the good Samaritan, Jesus forgiving and healing.'

Sometimes he brings his ukulele. He plays and sings a medley of religious and secular songs all in one go, without stopping; the human and the divine are intimately connected! This is what our life is all about!