Our problem as a church to hunt the lonely and remoted
(Photo: Unsplash / Kenny Luo)
When I was a boy, my family home was always expanded to include the newest person who needed companionship, support, family, or maybe just a hot meal. From the elderly gentleman who lived across the street and had few friends other than us, to a returning missionary family or the young person who felt that no one was interested, my parents' home became a haven for those who need others.
At the time, I found this both normal and frustrating. Juggling who slept in which room, adding a seat at the table, or the differently wrapped Christmas present for everyone who joins us … Most of the time, our home seemed to change to include those who talk about ours biological going out family.
This latest study, Hope Beyond, from Allchurches Trust, looked at the key issues that they believe churches will face both now and in the coming year due to the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting blockage. This key research shows that communities across the country are preparing to fight a huge increase in loneliness and isolation. A huge 78% of respondents expect this to be the greatest need in the next three months, and 58% will feel the same in a year. The challenge ahead of us is inevitable.
Before this lockdown season, loneliness was already a growing problem in the UK, spanning generations. Surprising growth among younger people who feel lonely and isolated has also been followed in recent years. The damage that such isolation can cause is both physical and psychological and can be devastating to people of all ages. It is a serious public health problem that, according to studies, can be as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. As a church, we need to step into this room and look for those who are isolated, who love on the margins and do everything possible to support those who are struggling.
This season was a big challenge for all of us. During this time there was a widely used statement that "we are all together in this matter". If we move out of the block, the Church must hold on to this statement as we try to do everything to serve those who are struggling. Maybe it's time for us to have households like the one I grew up in? Can we expand our tables for the needy? Can we take time for the lonely? Can we offer fellowship to those who don't have one? The Church has always been about a gathering of people who share life and invite others to be part of it. We cannot lose sight of those outside of our community if we continue to move out of the block and start rebuilding.
One challenge is that the problem just seems too big for us to tackle alone. It feels like we're too insignificant to have a big impact. But then I remember the old story of starfish on the beach. We cannot do everything at once, loneliness and isolation are not immediately resolved, but we can always make a difference. Here is this famous old story:
One day an old man was walking along a beach littered with thousands of starfish washed up ashore by the tide. While walking he encountered a boy who eagerly threw the starfish back into the sea one after the other.
The man looked at the boy in confusion and asked what he was doing. Without looking up from his task, the boy simply replied, "I'm saving these starfish, sir."
The old man chuckled loudly, "Son, there are thousands of starfish and only one of them. What difference can you make?"
The boy picked up a starfish, gently tossed it into the water, and turned to the man. He said: "I made a difference!"
As Britain tries to adapt to a new normal, this research has challenged me personally and should challenge each of us and every church in this nation. Who can you contact? What difference can you make to someone else? Anyone who is freed from loneliness and isolation and released in relationship and community is another important step to reverse this situation.
I love the parable of Jesus to leave 99 sheep behind to save the only one that is lost and alone. Let us follow this example in our homes, streets, and churches today by addressing those who are so often missed by the crowd and welcoming them to the family of God.
Gavin Calver is CEO of the Evangelical Alliance. He is an ordained evangelist, a regular speaker and author.