A while back there was a report that loneliness is rampant in jolly old England.
In response, the Prime Minister was moved to say, “For far too many people, loneliness is the sad reality of modern life. I want … to take action to address the loneliness endured by the elderly, by carers, by those who have lost loved ones — people who have no one to talk to or share their thoughts and experiences with.”
And so Mims Davies, the Minister for Sport and Civil Society, took on the added responsibilities of the first Minister for Loneliness. She says it will take some time to understand the nature of British loneliness and come up with remedies for it.
Impetus for this effort comes from a report by the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness. As a young girl in Yorkshire, Cox often walked the rounds with her grandfather the postman and came to see that her grandfather was the only person some residents saw all day. In 2016, two weeks before Britain voted to leave the European Union, Jo Cox, now a member of parliament, was stabbed and shot to death by a man who shouted “Britain First” as he killed her. Ms Cox favored Britain remaining in the Union.
The Jo Cox Commission estimates that 14% of British people say they are always or often lonely, one of whom was likely Cox’s murderer. The commission’s report quotes a physician who says loneliness can be as detrimental to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It also includes a long list of mental disorders that loneliness can bring on.
So, the government is going to do something about loneliness in Britain, but, it turns out, the government is also curtailing many helps for lonely people there. Libraries are known to be places lonely people gather, and yet it’s reported that Britain closed nearly 1,500 libraries in recent years. Funds for mental health, early childhood education and community centers have also been on the chopping block. So, along with appointing a high-level Minister for Loneliness, the government is adding to the problem the minister is supposed to alleviate.
I know for sure there are lonely people in western Sonoma County. I know some who dread every day the local library is closed. I know many whose loved ones have left this world. They tell me they are fine except for “the burning loneliness,” as one of them put it, as if loneliness sears the flesh and leaves a scar.
I also notice that clubs and lodges and, yes, churches are not as much a part of community life as they once were. And it seems to me a kind of low-level chronic loneliness comes on when messages on a screen habitually replace face-to-face conversation. It seems we are creating a world of more social media and lonelier people all at the same time.
When I started out as a pastor all those decades ago, I spent most of my time visiting those we called shut-ins. All the ministers in town did this. It was just expected that we would see these people no less than once a month. It was deeply appreciated and satisfying to do. I wonder if anything like this happens these days. I hope so.
To this end, I hereby appoint and commission the clergy, the elders and deacons and everyone else in religious congregations or not, to be Ministers of Loneliness, and I send them forth to listen, speak, laugh and cry with the lonely in these parts. More often than not, the minister receives as much as the one ministered to. Go visit and let it be so.
Bob Jones is the former minister of the Guerneville and Monte Rio Community Church.