Loneliness Is an ‘Epidemic,’ Surgeon General Says. How can congregations respond?

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From CNET: Loneliness Is an ‘Epidemic,’ Surgeon General Says. Here’s What to Know:

There’s no getting around the fact that we are social beings at our core. If we’re removed from a sense of community or do not have a feeling of belonging, it’s a threat to public health and can cause myriad health effects for the individual, as outlined in a new advisory from the Office of the US Surgeon General.

[…]Persistent feelings of loneliness or social isolation can impact our mood and emotions and cause symptoms of anxiety and depression, and also increase our risk of other health conditions, including heart disease and dementia.

“Loneliness is far more than just a bad feeling — it harms both individual and societal health,” US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy wrote in a letter opening the advisory. “It is associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, stroke, depression, anxiety and premature death.”

Mortality-wise, or how something contributes to the risk of death, loneliness has a similar effect to smoking up to 15 cigarettes per day and has a greater risk than obesity or physical inactivity, Murthy said.

Reading this online and having downloaded the Surgeon General’s Advisory, I wonder how the local church responds to this public health warning.

Congregations are uniquely situated to respond at the local level. But we must shift our thinking from membership recruitment to community service. (Lots of places do that, or at least intend to do that, but because of our shared anxiety about falling attendance at worship across the nation, it seems there’s always an undercurrent of recruitment.) It seems to me to be very similar to why and how congregations do feeding ministry. People are hungry, so we feed them. That’s what our Lord commands us to do. Well, people are lonely, and they need community. We respond because that’s the loving thing to do… and what our Lord commands.

What does this look like? Maybe a sack lunch speaker series? Maybe a community concert. Perhaps a writing workshop or a community garden, or… 

We are already doing much of this. I think the difference is that we’re doing it not to invite new people to join the church but because out of service to a community health danger.

(I’ve been thinking about this a bunch lately. I expect I’ll have more to say. But please don’t wait on me… go ahead and get started if you can.)

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. I absolutely agree. In this age churches need to learn how to be community centers. Each in its own unique way. Deanons because of our background and relationship to the world and community can be of special help. We bring the world (community) to the church. Give us a chance. And, please don’t forget those of us who are homebound and cannot access the physical church, but you can access us. Love and peace, Ted

  2. Anne Burke, retired deacon. says

    This is so very true, and the remedy is not just about being connected socially, it’s about having people or persons to share mutual concerns with, persons who are intellectually, spiritually and emotionally compatible to validate one’s existence, and worth.

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