I spent a couple of hours yesterday morning joining a mate as he helped clean out a flat lived in by one of his distant elderly relatives. The old lady in question is suffering from dementia and had been moved out of this top-floor flat in west London to live with family up in Scotland.
As we attacked old beds with saws to make them fit down the stairs, lugged 60’s design chairs down four flights, and then shifted it all into a minibus, we realised the reality is we were stripping an apartment of a lifetime’s worth of collected possessions. Old hoovers and chairs and pans off to the dump, pictures and books and crockery to the charity shop; it was a pretty sad moment really.
I would hardly have said there was much there that was in anyway unnecessary – it didn’t make me suddenly want to streamline my material existence (although, that wouldn’t be a bad thing for me to do!). But it did ram home the realisation that at the end of the day all these bits will be left behind. Whether it’s being mowed down by a bus in my mid-twenties, signing out at seventy-five, or just being carted out of my home to somewhere, where for a few years, they’ll sit me in front of a TV for most of the day and feed me my meals; we will leave this stuff behind us.
Yet it wasn’t just furniture being left behind. As we chatted over cups of tea made in very retro china cups there were stories. Stories of a battleaxe of a Christian lady. Stories of the many gatherings in the flat as she opened up her home in loving hospitality. Stories of a woman who loves playing her part in God’s body. And as the day went on two things happened: the flat got barer and barer, but also more and more people turned up to help out. Again and again, “Hi I’m a friend from her church” was the opening line. No sermons, no singing, but definitely church in action.