This is a copy of my article for the JULY 2016 edition of the Billericay ‘Around Town Magazine’

Research has found that a lack of meaningful social interaction can be as bad for your health as 15 cigarettes a day. Those who are lonely are more likely to suffer from dementia, anxiety, depression, obesity and more susceptible to heart disease and high blood pressure. All of us will have felt a bit lonely at times, but I’m talking about the type of loneliness where people speak to no one day after day, when: no one calls; no one pops round; and no one seems to care.

It’s said that around 7.6 million people live by themselves in the UK – this equates to over 3,000 people in Billericay. They can be found everywhere, in every avenue, in every close and on every street.  Could one of these be living near to you?  This poem was handed to a vicar when, after a lady asked him for help, he promised he would pray for her (and was instrumental in the setting up of the charity Shelter):

I was hungry and you formed a humanities group to discuss my hunger.

I was imprisoned and you crept off quietly to your chapel and prayed for my release.

I was naked and in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance.

I was sick and you knelt and thanked God for your health.

I was homeless and you preached to me of the spiritual shelter of the love of God.

I was lonely and you left me alone to pray for me.

You seem so holy, so close to God, but I am still very hungry – and lonely – and cold.

The Bible is clear about our responsibility to reach out to the lonely, widowed and orphaned.  In Matthew 25 Jesus says that if we help someone else, it’s like directly serving him. Mother Teresa often said that she saw Jesus in others – just as I tried to do when I worked in the Prison Service. Churches in Billericay are perfectly positioned to help those who are lonely and they provide many excellent groups to enable people of all ages to meet with others, such as: Babies and Toddlers; Coffee Mornings; Midweek Break for the over 60’s; Café on the Common; Home Bible Study Groups; Mothers’ Union; Who Let The Dad’s Out?  Dambusters; Ladies on Thursday; Community Choir; Family Time; Youth Groups; Street Pastors – the list just goes on!  Church isn’t just confined to Sundays, we are pretty active Monday to Saturday too!

We were designed to live in community and to live in relationship with other people. We see this in the book of Genesis with Adam and Eve ad this is echoed throughout the Bible. The Christian understanding of Father, Son and Holy Spirit as the Trinity also shows us the importance of living in community. The church is one of the few organisations that offers true community including people of all ages, backgrounds and political persuasions.

Recent reports suggest that churchgoing positively affects our physical health. Scientists studied 74,000 women over a 16-year period and found most regular churchgoers were 33% less likely to have died than those who never attended.  So now we can say with authority, what we’ve known for ages: church is good for your health!  And that’s on top of the eternal benefits! What’s not to like?

If loneliness is something you’re carrying at the moment, can I encourage you to ‘get out there’ because you are needed. Whether it’s meeting someone for a coffee, sharing a meal, getting involved with the Billericay Community Garden or the Billericay Cinema or joining a church based group. Don’t let age be a barrier: volunteer to help children read at school or support some of the excellent Uniformed Groups around town. Be brave!  People will welcome you with open arms and you can be sure that God won’t let you down.