Pastor’s Friday Comments (11.22.19)

In a recent op-ed column originally published in The New York Times, Nicholas D. Kristof takes note of a dangerous killer among us.

It’s called loneliness. He cites research from Brigham Young University that concludes that “social isolation is more lethal than smoking 15 cigarettes a day, or than obesity.” He also says that public health experts in many countries are debating how to address a “loneliness epidemic” that corrupts modern life.

Well, I’ve got one idea.

Let’s find every way we can to get lonely people to come to church. Sure, our main motivation might be the command of Jesus Christ to do all we can to spread the gospel and our concern for people might be first of all for their spiritual health, but if there are physical benefits associated with our helping people not to be lonely, then so much the better.

I’m sorry to harp on a subject to which I seem to return often, but the end of loneliness isn’t likely to occur if one slips into a crowded service in a darkened arena and sits next to people who barely acknowledge their presence, any more than it will be cured by going to see a movie alone. 

But a church where people seem genuinely interested in others, where they make people feel welcome, where they acknowledge how difficult and frightening it might be to put yourself out there by being in a place where you assume everybody else already knows each other — in a place like that I really think loneliness is something that can be overcome. It also happens that these are attributes that people find when they visit Parkway.

Kristof writes, “Extended families have dissolved, and social institutions like churches, bowling leagues and neighborhood clubs have frayed. We are no longer deeply embedded in our communities.”

Being deeply embedded in community is what congregations offer. Ideally, they are places where people are allowed to be themselves, where they can receive encouragement and support, and where they are not alone. No church always meets the ideal, but it is a goal for which Parkway can not only strive, but come close to attaining.

Kristof informs us that Great Britain has taken the lead in countries addressing the issue of social isolation. They have actually appointed a minister of loneliness.

How about letting that become your title too? Become a minister of loneliness. Determine that you will pay close attention to the people around you, particularly the ones who are not on your social radar because they aren’t already connected to you or anyone else. Invite that person to come to church with you.

As a member of this family of faith, make a conscious effort to be welcoming to anyone who gets up the courage to come into a place where they don’t know anyone. Let’s not overwhelm anybody, but, in every way we can, let’s let them know that we’re glad they have chosen to be with us.

Many years ago a woman told me that she came to church for many reasons, but one that was most important to her was that she knew it was the only place she would go every week and be guaranteed a hug. Let’s make sure that guarantee still holds.