‘A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing…’ Psalm 68:5-6

Loneliness is the trigger emotion letting us know we need to seek out company. It’s as natural as a rumbling tummy that tells us it’s time to eat. But scratching that itch isn’t as simple as having a bite to eat.

Left untended, loneliness can be more damaging than obesity, but shame and stigma surround this condition, even though it affects us all at some point in our lives. A fear of appearing ‘uncool’ might stop younger people seeking help. For older people, isolation and simply not knowing where to go for company might be a factor. But there are ways to cure the increasing spiral of desolation caused by loneliness.

In Oxford, the Archway Foundation works with people of all ages affected by loneliness. A Social Space and Social Hub give participants, called ‘friends’, the chance to meet and enjoy interactive activities like board games.

“There seems to be a continuum of young people finding themselves isolated and lonely. For some it is circumstances changing – location, jobs and relationships. For most of the friends we support, social interactions and friendships may always have been difficult,” says Lynne Wigginton, Young Adults Service Co-ordinator at Archway.

Archway’s many projects include Wednesday Welcome, based in an Oxford church, where tea and cake are served. Like the social hub and social space, there are volunteers and friends, and it can be difficult to tell who is who.

Director Sheila Furlong says: “There’s fluidity. Some people who come as friends become volunteers and some volunteers become friends as circumstances in their life change. There are times when any of us feel wounded and broken. We learn from each other and belong together.”

Archway’s model for helping people find that vital connection is one that could easily be replicated in churches for people of all ages.

In fact, community and fellowship with other human beings is surely what church is about. Whether it’s a youth group or a group specifically for older people, any regular event is helping people build friendships that are vital to feeling happy and satisfied.
St Mary and St Nicholas in Littlemore shines hope into a community blighted by poverty by inviting people in for free breakfasts, coffee mornings and other events. The Curate, Revd Hannah Cartwright, says: “I went into some local flats and could sense the depression that comes over you. I have met people who are often trapped inside their own space. A couple of mornings a week we give people an excuse to get out of their house.”

St Mary and St Nicholas is one of hundreds of churches across our Diocese providing this sort of simple but vital service. Could your church, or your community, do something similar? ¶

Words and photo: Jo Duckles
Bible translation: New International Version (NIV)