Loneliness is something that many of us have experienced over the last year and a half, with the majority of us being separated to some degree from loved ones, friends and colleagues due to the Covid-19 pandemic and resulting lockdowns. However, the pandemic has had a particularly devastating impact on the older generation – many of whom live alone and continue to be shut away from society even as the rest of us begin the tentative steps back to normality, due to issues such as lack of mobility, illness, limited social contact and post-pandemic anxiety.
We were recently asked to contribute to a report called ‘Loneliness in Older People’ (1), which shines a light on the important issues facing older people as well as issuing guidance on how Christian organisations can support older people experiencing loneliness and isolation.
The report reminds us that “Churches have historically led the way in caring for older and frail people in society, often providing food, shelter, clothing and money to those living in the local neighbourhood. Centuries before the concept of state health or social services, churches would provide care, pastoral support, food and homes to those struggling in society, many of whom were older people.”
The report goes on to emphasise this important role: “As we come to terms with the impact that Covid-19 has had on us all, the church will continue to have a crucial role to play in local communities. This will include ensuring that those on the margins of society are identified, and opportunities provided to engage with initiatives which lead to greater connectivity and inclusion.”
But how does this work in practice?
As detailed in the report, “There are now a number of excellent models of good practice that churches can use to address loneliness locally which encourage joint working and avoids duplication of effort.” Some of these vital organisations include Anna Chaplaincy for Older People, which offers spiritual care to those in later life and Embracing Age, which helps churches reach out to people who are often overlooked, particularly care home residents and family carers. These organisations provide models that can be used by churches and Christian organisations across the country, with all the resources and inspiration they need to reach out to older people in their own local communities.
At Linking Lives UK, our aim is to support older people in our communities through befriending, which is recognised as “a relationship between two or more individuals which is initiated, supported, and monitored. Ideally the relationship is non-judgemental, mutual, purposeful, and there is a commitment over time.”
We have so far equipped and enabled over 70 churches across the UK to set up befriending schemes as part of their engagement in their local communities, by providing a ready-to-use framework, training and guidance for setting up, preparing and running a befriending scheme. By sharing all these resources, we hope to enable churches to more easily and effectively establish a ministry and mission to support older people living in loneliness and isolation.
It was wonderful to be able to share what we do in this recent report, which reflects our aims as an organisation to equip and empower churches to work with key organisations and agencies to stand up for the older generation and really make a difference to the lives they are living and offer support with the issues they are facing. As this report states: “It is now time for churches to stand-up to the prejudices and discrimination of older people, to challenge the ageism we see in society and show that people in the Fourth Age are valued, celebrated, respected and included. Churches and Christian faith organisations should be leading the way to reach out to older people, to tackle ageist views and attitudes and demonstrate that older people matter.”
If your church or Christian organisation is looking to reach out to older people in your community during this time and you would like to hear more about how we can support you, please get in touch. We would love to hear from you.
Click here to read the full report.
1 ‘’Loneliness in Older People’, Faith in Later Life – Karen Grimshaw & Prof. Keith Brown