People who go to Church can feel just as isolated as those who don’t. This Blue Monday, Alexandra Davis shares how building intergenerational relationships can help the Church, and the wider community, feel connected and encouraged
The loneliness epidemic in the UK has been widely reported on and many of us are conscious of how lockdown has intensified the isolation, loneliness and social anxiety people experience across all ages. But, as Christians, we mustn’t make the mistake of thinking this a problem only experienced in the world out there. Loneliness and isolation are experienced by people in churches and by those in the communities that surround them.
The role of discipleship and sharing faith across the generations is a vital part of church life
Today is Blue Monday, supposedly the most depressing day of the year. Family gatherings and festivities are behind us, winter still stretches ahead and Christmas bills begin to bite. But I remain hopeful. Our research shows that 68 per cent of UK adults are more aware of the loneliness older people may experience since Covid-19. It also shows we have all the tools needed to tackle loneliness in our churches and communities in 2022 — if we realise the value we bring to one another.
Know your worth
It’s not unusual to be unaware of our value. Lots of us have a negative bias that tells us we’re nothing special. So perhaps it’s no surprise that our survey reveals that only three in ten 18-34 year olds are aware of the value that their friendship and help in doing practical tasks could bring to older people. Yet the research shows that nearly two-thirds of people across the age spectrum agreed that the younger generation (16-30 year olds) bring value to those over 70 through their energy, outlook, and enthusiasm.
But this isn’t just about what younger people can do for older people – over half of younger people believe that older people bring value to them through their life experience, wisdom, and perspective. So it turns out that, across the generations, lots of us value one another more than we might think.
As we begin this new year, I would love to encourage us as the Church to reflect on, acknowledge and act upon the value that we bring to each other practically, emotionally and spiritually. The kind of help that older people are able to offer is undeniable – the phone call just to ask after the family, to see how school is going or to offer a few words of wisdom, prayer and spiritual guidance in managing a challenging relationship or work situation. Support from younger people is equally valuable – the obvious things are helping with shopping or getting someone set up on a new piece of tech, but there’s also the listening ear or sharing perspectives or views on what’s happening in the wider world. These things all add up to a fuller, more connected life for young and old.
The value of connection
A friend recently bumped into a younger neighbour at the local shops. As they exchanged pleasantries, my friend realised that their neighbour’s family were going through a really tough time, and later decided to drop off a note with her number on it and an invitation to get in touch. There followed a few texts and, at Christmas, my friend got a card thanking her for her support. It’s the little things that can help us build bridges across the generations, nurture friendships and offer support to one another. Showing this love is such an important part of our ministry as churches.
If anything, this is even more true within the Church. Interestingly, our research reveals that only a small percentage of those identifying themselves as Christians agreed that sharing their faith in God across the younger and older generation was valuable. But the role of discipleship and sharing faith across the generations is a vital part of church life. Psalm 78:4 says: “We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done.” There are many other places in the bible that speak of the importance of discipleship and care between the generations.
Across the generations, lots of us see and value one another more than we might think
The pandemic has meant that we’re gathering together less often in church buildings, both as a Church and in our outreach, so it’s vital that we make the most of our everyday routine. That’s why Pilgrims’ Friend Society has launched #FriendshipIsAgeless, a campaign to encourage people to connect with those older or younger than them, confident in the knowledge that most of us appreciate this kind of contact. And here are our top tips for tackling loneliness in your church and community:
1. Look up
Our first top tip is simply an encouragement to take a moment during your daily routine – whether work, running errands, picking the kids up from school or taking the dog for a walk. Look up, connect with others around you and say a quick hello. If you have a regular routine, meeting the same people a few times a week, a regular “hello” might just turn into a “how are you?” and the beginning of a new friendship.
2. Post a note
We’re also encouraging people to Post a Note – just like my friend. Could you drop a note through a neighbour’s door, offering support or a cup of tea?
3. Dive In
If you’ve got a little more time on your hands, could you dive in and explore opportunities in your local community? If you’re older, perhaps a local school could do with some extra adults to listen to the children read or if you’re younger, perhaps there’s a local care home which could do with a couple of hours a week of extra help? You could suggest setting up groups at church that focus on hobbies and interests to help attract people across the age spectrum.
4. Share life
Perhaps you’re ready to share life with others. Could you take the plunge and start a book or jigsaw exchange with others on your street? Could you offer to help set someone up with their technology or get them registered for something online? Or suggest praying or reading the bible with someone you don’t know very well that is outside of your age group?
And finally, I’m sure lots of us have stories of friendships across the generations – stories of how an older person has stepped in when we needed them, or a younger person has shared a skill or their time with us. We’d love to hear from you about your experience of how friendship spans the years – why not share your story with us and others on social media using #FriendshipIsAgeless.
Find out more about the Friendship Is Ageless campaign.