In 2017 the Arthur Rank Centre produced an isolation and loneliness toolkit for rural churches recognising that the Church plays an important role in the life of local communities and as such, is in a unique position to respond to issues of social isolation and loneliness.
The toolkit has been piloted in four churches in Yorkshire, with each one offering a different service for the local community. In Oxenhope the Methodists and Anglicans have come together to host a weekly Community Café; Kirbymoorside Parish Church is reaching out to young families and children with regular events; the Parish of Swaledale with Arkengarthdale is working in partnership with Age UK to run a drop in centre offering advice and resources for locals as well as an opportunity for tea, coffee and a chat and the Methodist Church at Littlebeck has hosted a memories day inviting people together to share and listen to the lived experience of the local community. Four Churches, four different projects, each responding to a local need.
You can read about and download the toolkit here: https://germinate.net/mission/rural-isolation-and-loneliness-toolkit/
Fiona Fidgin works for the Methodist Church and has been accompanying the pilot projects. In October she spoke with Jonathan Cowap about the projects and their work on BBC Radio York. You can hear the interview here:
What now, what next?
One of the great successes of the Yorkshire Pilot Projects is that the Church is beginning to talk about loneliness and isolation. A stigma stays a stigma until people begin to open up the conversation in an honest and vulnerable way. With all the evidence pointing to loneliness becoming a national endemic, one might ask why is the church not talking about this? Perhaps it is that we assume we can never be lonely because we have God or Jesus by our side, or is it that we too are scared of failure in a world which places value on success? And yet the Bible makes it clear that we are called to have a special care for the vulnerable, the widow, the stranger and that in doing so, where relationships are formed and nourished, community thrives. Fiona asked Cat and David who set up the Oxenhope Community Cafe what advice they would give to anyone wanting to start their own project, ‘Just do it!” they both exclaimed! And that sounds like an invitation the church can’t refuse!