They teach that people should love their neighbour* but a major new study shows that churches are one of the few places most modern Britons might even meet them.
Ground-breaking new analysis of the friendship networks of almost 4,300 people aged from 13 to 80 has identified churches and sporting events as the last bastions of neighbourliness and integration in Britain.
Overall, it found that churches and other places of worship are more successful than any other social setting at bringing people of different backgrounds together, well ahead of gatherings such as parties, meetings, weddings or venues such as pubs and clubs.
*I think that was Jesus who said that, so it's not a surprise to find his followers modelling community (however imperfectly), more than most other settings.
Media story here, based on some ongoing work by the Social Integration Commission (no, I'd never heard of them before either), with a report due out next month. I do sometimes wonder where else the children in our church (or indeed the adults) would get the chance to mix with such a diverse range of people: aged 0 to 90+, Navy commanders, nurses, single parents, widows, carpenters, engineers, teachers, Japanese, Romanian, Italian, Nigerian, kids from several local primary and secondary schools, Oxbridge degree, NVQ1, self employed, and I won't even start on the range of medical conditions.
A few days after discovering our daughter had type 1 diabetes, a church member 55 years older than her had a chat: he told her he'd been diagnosed when he was 5, and it hadn't stopped him doing anything. To see the living, breathing proof of what we'd been told/read but hadn't really taken in was so reassuring, and just one aspect of the church being the church.
I'm also reminded of something wise said by one of our tutors at vicar college: in church, just as we are enriched by the presence of others, so we are diminished by their absence. The church could do and be so much more if those who professed to be Christians realised that you do have to be part of a church to fully live that out.