Just before I headed off to Greenbelt in the summer of 2019, I wrote a tweet asking if any clergy had ever felt lonely and would they be prepared to talk to me about it. If so, they could message me privately. In my head I was hoping I’d get loads of folk replying; in reality, there wasn’t a single response. Now, of course, there might be a hundred good reasons why this was the case – not least, that they might not have seen the tweet – but it did leave me wondering whether loneliness is still something that we struggle to talk about. I believe there is a stigma about it
Rural Isolation and Loneliness: A toolkit for rural churches is a new resource from Germinate: The Arthur Rank Centre. It is designed to help rural churches consider how they might respond to the growing challenge of isolation and loneliness facing many rural communities.
I was spending the day with a rural vicar in Worcestershire. We were walking around one of the small communities he served when a woman emerged from a house, clutching a toddler and looking distraught. Her story quickly emerged…
Julia, a registered nurse and health visitor, has taken early retirement to focus on helping eleven small churches in North Devon reach out to those in the community with health needs. Her work involves:
- Encouraging self-care through the promotion of healthy lifestyles
- Education about managing a newly-diagnosed condition in order to prevent complications
- Helping people recover well after surgery or acute illness
- Visiting those who have long-term chronic conditions and need support with understanding their medication
- Accompaniment to a hospital appointment or signposting to appropriate NHS services
- Connecting with people who are nearing the end of life to ensure that they have peace and some quality of care in their last months
The robin landed on the table and looked around. It helped itself to some bread from the plate before flying off, then returned for more, almost oblivious to the young people sat watching. Gathered in the outdoor chapel, the group were invited to reflect on all they had heard and experienced during the weekend away, and what this meant as they returned home. Given the option to go forward to eat bread and drink juice, soon around twenty young people crowded round the small table, to eat and drink remembering Him. Together, they brought their enthusiasm, energy, tiredness, hopes and fears, and in that moment we caught a glimpse of the Kingdom of God.
There is little worse than someone telling you that they know what it’s like to be in your shoes, when you know they have no idea at all. On the other hand, finding someone who genuinely understands is like discovering lost treasure. This is how I have felt on the journey I have taken since my wife started to show signs that she was no longer coping mentally. We have no children and no other relatives live nearby. I felt on my own, and my GP, though sympathetic, was unable to offer any support at that stage.
The Campaign to End Loneliness reports that ‘rural areas have a unique set of circumstances that can exacerbate the social isolation of older residents, leading to poor health, loss of independence and lower quality of life. Linking Lives UK is a Christian charity founded in 2012 which works across the UK to address issues of isolation and loneliness among older people through regular home visits.
For the fourth year running, groups of Year 5 children from eight primary schools in the Eden Valley in Cumbria, plus their teachers and parent chauffeurs, made a unique Easter Journey through Langwathby Methodist Church. Gazebos transformed the church into a sequence of locations beginning on the dusty road into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. The children were immersed in the events of a week in which Jesus Christ encountered acclaim and opposition, friendship and hostility.
Susan Atkinson, a farmer in Leicestershire, reflects on her first-hand experience of farming isolation.
Our farm is situated between three villages. When I first met my husband in the 1970s all three villages still contained working farms; now there is only one farm left, plus a couple of ‘retired’ farmers who still keep a few animals.
I recently ran a project to commemorate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation and Martin Luther’s 95 Theses. Together with friends from the ecumenical Mission Theology Advisory Group we produced 95 Missional Theses. One of our new ‘theses’ reads:
‘We believe in a Church where the lonely can find friends’.
When this statement was posted on social media, it immediately provoked an avalanche of comment and discussion, especially from those clergy and lay people following us from rural situations. Loneliness has been called ‘the last taboo’ and it seemed that posting a statement about loneliness made the unsayable possible.