Frequent reports of how lonely we are, across all ages and nations, have dominated the news for months. We live in lonely times. Increasing numbers of elderly people are living alone for longer. Many young people describe acute senses of loneliness. People are lonely in both in our cities and in rural areas, so much so that loneliness is now considered a public-health issue, with some commentators declaring that “the world is suffering from an epidemic of loneliness.”
Recent studies assert that loneliness is hazardous to our health, disrupting sleep, increasing stress and inflammation, and weakening immune systems. It’s also associated with cognitive decline, heart disease, and greater frailty later on in life. With a significant effect on mortality rates, loneliness is now considered a public health threat potentially more harmful than obesity and as bad as smoking. It’s especially ironic that as we are globally connected to the worldwide village through social media, we are somehow more socially isolated than ever.
As church communities, we can and really should be part of the solution, reaching out to those who are alone and inviting them into the family of God. During the recent archdeacons’ visitations, I heard heart-warming stories of churches signing up as ‘places of welcome’, offering cake, coffee and chatter sessions, or knit and natter gatherings. Community is being built as people experience the loving welcome of church members not just on Sundays, but as our church buildings are used as places of connection and outreach during the week too.
Saint Paul says in his letter to the Corinthian church that ‘whoever loves God is known by God’. (1 Corinthians 8:3) As his people, we can find security and comfort in the knowledge that we are never alone, God knows us and sees our comings and goings (Psalm 139), even if we feel alone and that no-one else cares. But God’s promise to place the lonely in families is fulfilled when we, as his body on earth, reach out to those who are alone for whatever reason, loving and welcoming them, listening, and enabling them too, to experience being known by God, and cared for by his people.
Archdeacon of Dudley