If this title makes you think about the leader of a church, think again. Agreed, churches have ministers and do ministry, but I’m now thinking of one of Great Britain’s newest high level government positions, called "The Minister of Loneliness."
Why? Volumes of research is piling up on both sides of the pond showing loneliness as a pandemic, beating out the coronavirus for that distinction. It has major negative ripples across countries and age groups. Survey results were released by Cigna, a global health service company, based on the UCLA loneliness scale, an instrument that measures loneliness, as well as social isolation. Four significant patterns emerged from the survey of more than 20,000 U.S. adults. Nearly half of the respondents reported feeling alone, occasionally or continuously. Close to half the respondents from the Cigna study said they did not have a single meaningful in-person social connection, such as daily conversations with friends, or quality time with family.
Ironically global urbanization, more people living densely in cities, seemingly has made this worse. Singer Bob Dylan famously said New York is the only place someone could freeze to death on the streets and no one would notice. Not sure why he just picked out and picked on New York.
Likewise social media is supposed to connect us. Spoiler alert. The research overwhelmingly shows those only make us feel lonelier. Generation Z, ages 18-22, the group most connected via social media, amazingly scores highest on the UCLA loneliness scale.
Depression, dementia, suicide, heart attacks, high blood pressure, are all worsened by loneliness. Dr. Douglas Nemecek, chief medical officer for behavioral health at Cigna, suggests that "loneliness has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, making it even more dangerous than obesity." Former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review last year arguing that loneliness needed addressed in the workplace.**
Here are just a few of the related titles in major newspapers I found in my study for this article: "Researchers Confront an Epidemic of Loneliness," "The Surprising Effects of Loneliness on Health," "Loneliness Can Be Deadly for Elders; Friends Are the Antidote," "A Generation in Japan Faces a Lonely Death," "How Social Isolation Is Killing Us."
Contrasted: social connectedness is nearly always ranked in the top 5 factors in longevity and QUALITY of life.
Our need for close relationships has been hard-wired inside us from eternity past by our Creator God who is all about connectedness himself. He exists in community as God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit and we are made in his image (Genesis 1:26).
This loneliness pandemic provides followers of Jesus an amazing ministry opportunity. The single greatest gift we still can give others is our quality time, because time is life. And we are called to be life-giving like Jesus. He often experienced tons of time in lonely places (Mark 1:35; 14:35; Luke 5:16). He’s still the greatest minister of loneliness (John 10:10).
Pastor Rick Sams is pastor emeritus of Alliance Friends Church.