People are dying of loneliness. While pubs might provide a temporary respite, the Church has so much more to offer, says Alex Drew. Let’s introduce people to the eternal friendship of Jesus this Christmas

Charlie's Bar

After weeks of unhappy rumblings on social media about some of the big brand Christmas adverts, a triumphant underdog has emerged.

The two minute advert for Charlie’s Bar, Enniskillen, shot on a tiny budget, has made hearts soar with a charming take on how one older man’s lonely day ended in new friendships, a selfie and, yes, a pint.

We welcome this recognition of loneliness; that it’s prevalent in older people, including those living in bustling communities, that it increases among those who are bereaved, that finding connection in later life can be challenging, and that all this feels worse in the winter and at Christmastime.

Loneliness can have serious consequences for people, even increasing the risk of premature death. This shouldn’t surprise us. God made us to be relational, and so it’s no wonder people are dying of loneliness in our ever disconnected society.

Good company

What we welcome most of all in this advert therefore is the simplicity of the solution – companionship! Recent research from the University of Glasgow has revealed that as little as one visit from a loved one every month can increase a lonely person’s lifespan.

A trip to the pub goes some way to ease loneliness but the Church has so much more to offer!

But not everyone has loved ones living nearby, and the reality is that some older people go weeks without talking with others. Pubs (and other community hubs) play a vital role in helping lonely people feel connected. A Dutch supermarket has recently introduced slow checkouts for older people who want someone to talk to, and I see first-hand in my local supermarket here in the UK how these connections bring much joy to older people.

Eternal friendship

Of course, many of these interactions are brief, surface-level and in-the-moment. But in a church community, people can be fully known and embraced into a loving family. They can find purpose, experience belonging and be introduced to the ultimate eternal solution to loneliness: Jesus Christ.

Churches are biblically motivated and well set up to welcome the lonely. And regardless of the reason behind most seniors’ ministries, we know that helping people to feel less lonely is a key outcome of their endeavours.

And it’s not just the guests who benefit. In Church, Christians of all ages and abilities can be engaged in ministry work, living out their lifelong and irrevocable call to make disciples, being part of a team, growing in their relationship with Jesus and reducing their own loneliness in the process.

Always welcome

Watching the Charlie’s bar video, it’s interesting to note that the gentleman and his imminently new friends enter the pub at 2:25pm on a weekday. It might seem early in the day for a pint but, let’s face it, where else could he have gone? Most people think of Church as somewhere you might pitch up to on a Sunday morning only and, in many cases, they’d be right.

People are dying of loneliness in our ever disconnected society

In a society that’s crying out for human relationships, churches have an incredible opportunity to throw the doors wide open during the week, in the daytime, to offer hospitality, friendship and an introduction to the good news of Jesus.

At Faith in Later Life we see many churches do just that; welcoming older people into church on weekdays for special senior’s events such as coffee mornings, Alpha courses, craft groups or Warm Spaces.

An occasional trip to the pub to sit by the fire with a pint, new friends and a fluffy dog goes some way to easing this terrible burden of loneliness for sure, but the Church has so much more to offer!

This advert is good a reminder to us to make sure people know that the Church is here, ready to give them a warm welcome and friendship that brings life. Life that’s not just for these gloomy winter days, but for all eternity.

Find out more about Faith in Later Life’s Love My Neighbour campaign to ease loneliness and share God’s love this winter