I learnt a lot about this from the people who came to a workshop in Tredegar’s Castle Street Church on combating loneliness. They were from a number of churches in the region; and I have to add that I can’t imagine anyone belonging to Castle Street Church feeling lonely – the pastor and the fellowship are far too warm and inclusive.
It was good, too, to see the 94 year old member at the heart of everything, including helping with the refreshments. In other churches, a participant told me, older people can come in and sit quietly and go out again without speaking to anyone. ‘We should make sure that someone notices them and talks to them,’ she added. Another said, ‘After my husband died, no-one came to see me from my church. Just to have someone popping in for five minutes would have made such a difference.’
A pastor explained that church leaders will visit, but as a rule other church members don’t seem to see the need. ‘Why do you suppose that is?’ I asked. Some thought that it could be because people don’t know what to say to someone who is bereaved. We Brits are not very good at emotions – although the younger generation coming through the ranks may change all that. Older people can suffer from feelings of loneliness for a long while, years even, after the death of a wife or husband, even in the company of others. There is a healing power in the presence of another person, and the conversation doesn’t need to be ‘heavy’; just ordinary, every day topics will do.
When we go into church and sit down, do we begin by saying ‘hello’ to the person sitting next to us? I like the part in an Anglican service where people stand up and ‘give the peace’ to everyone around them. And having chats over teas and coffees after the service is a great idea, even though the children eat all the biscuits before you even know they’re there! Do we look around and see someone on their own we could talk to, and learn more about?
So, as well as reaching out to the community it might be a good idea to look to the ‘household of faith’, and look out for people who feel lonely there. A smile and a ‘hello’ might make the world of difference.