The following article was written by Rev Stephen Steele, minister of Stranraer Reformed Presbyterian Church, and was published by his local newspaper:
‘All the lonely people. Where do they all come from? All the lonely people. Where do they all belong?’
The Beatles’ lyrics seem more relevant than ever. In January, Theresa May appointed a Minister for Loneliness. Someone joked that they couldn’t work out why the government had only appointed one of them – but loneliness is no laughing matter. A 2017 study found that 9 million people in Britain often or always felt lonely. Government research found that 200,000 older people had not had a conversation with a friend or relative in a month. But it’s not just a problem for older people – 83% of 13-34 year olds in the UK say they feel lonely, as do a third of new mums. And loneliness can be lethal – research shows that being lonely and isolated increases the risk of early death by a third.
The Bible recognises the dangers of loneliness. God created a world where there was no sickness, suffering or death, and declared it ‘very good’. But there was one thing which wasn’t good – ‘it is not good that the man should be alone’. One solitary human being wouldn’t reflect a three-person God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) – and wouldn’t cope well with life.
One of God’s solutions to loneliness is marriage – yet the Bible recognises that not all will marry, married people can feel lonely too, and one partner is usually left alone. God’s other solution to loneliness is one that you might not expect. It’s called the church.
For many today, church is a building. It’s something that you go to, not something you’re part of. But the idea of church as just something you go to once a week is radically different from the New Testament descriptions of the church as a family and as a body. That’s a picture which our congregation seeks (albeit imperfectly) to live out. When our daughter was born last year, people in the church brought meals to the house for weeks afterwards. Our people are regularly in each other’s homes for meals. The sick and housebound are visited in hospital and at home.
None of this is because anyone has been told to do it. It simply reflects the fact that through faith in Jesus we’re now brothers and sisters in Christ, and we want to reflect that in how we live our lives. And of course, the great Christian hope is Heaven, a place where none are strangers, because all are members of the one family.
Published in the Stranraer and Wigtownshire Free Press, 26th April 2018.