Last week as I drove back and forth from Charlestown to Winchester, I heard several stories on NPR with similar themes. The first was a report on British Prime Minister Theresa May’s newly appointed Minister of Loneliness. The story told of people who were connected to others electronically, but had difficulty finding meaningful relationships. Amazingly enough, this new position was created to help busy people find community.
Later, there was a story from the Netherlands, where government workers were being paid to take music to lonely seniors. Sometimes this meant getting groups of people together in one place so that they could listen to music and interact with each other. In other instances, it meant sharing recordings with housebound people one on one. This included one 93 year-old woman who loved to ballroom dance with her weekly visitor, something she and her late husband had enjoyed doing for many years.
Finally, there was a story from Japan that told of young people who had done something that brought shame on their family. One man had failed to pass the law school entrance exam, and, as a result, he had ostracized himself from almost everyone. Believe it or not, this is a big enough group that there is an actual name for them in Japanese. Hikikomori are defined as reclusive people who haven’t left their homes or interacted with anyone for at least six months. The story went on to tell of a 33 year-old who had gotten a group of Hikikomori together to write about their stories in the form of a newspaper. In all of these stories, finding meaningful community was mentally and physically healing for all involved.
For some reason, these stories stuck with me. In a world where we seem to interact directly with people less and less, our need for real connections with others grows. As I began to think about the community of people in my own life who are most important to me, I began to realize that the overwhelming common denominator in those relationships was church. My closest childhood friends are from my church youth group. I met my husband singing in a church choir, and our dearest friends, who over the years have become like family members, are all people whom we met at church.
I have no doubt that this is true for many of you as well. I have been at Epiphany for a year now, and during that time there is one thing that has impressed me. This is a community that deeply cares for others. Epiphany Visitors work to make sure that those who can’t join us at church are still part of our community. People meet regularly to pray for others in need. Some of us make prayer shawls in an effort to enfold others in our warmth and love. Lay Eucharist Visitors take communion to people. Friends in Deed provide meals to those need them. Flowers are delivered to people regularly. Parents and toddlers gather weekly to make connections and support each other. Choir members work together to provide music and in the process form valuable friendships. And most importantly, we all greet and welcome new people who come through our doors each week.
I have already come to value this community and I know that there are many others out there who will find what they are looking for here as well. What we are doing is important work, and I know that we can make a difference in many peoples lives. The best part is that they will make a difference in our own lives in the process.