Loneliness & the Church


America is facing an epidemic of loneliness. That is the conclusion of Surgeon General Vivek Murthy in his April 30 article in The New York Times. “At any moment,” he wrote, “about one out of every two Americans is experiencing measurable levels of loneliness.” It doesn’t matter if you are an extrovert or introvert, rich or poor, young or old, all are vulnerable.

Loneliness and isolation have “grave consequences for our mental health, physical health and collective well-being.” This includes anxiety, depression, heart disease, stroke, dementia, and obesity on a personal level. In addition, the loss of social connection leads to “reduced productivity in the workplace, worse performance in school, and diminished civic engagement” on the societal level. 

Loneliness was not unknown in Wesley’s eighteenth century. It was a time of massive social dislocation, with people forced out of rural areas and finding themselves alone in cities and coal mining areas. 

Methodists formed Stranger’s Friends Societies to provide assistance and counter their isolation. This is only one instance of Wesley’s insistence that Methodists befriend people experiencing poverty. 

Methodism itself was an antidote to loneliness. Wesley’s movement was not a church but a connection of larger societies and smaller groups to renew the church. Small groups like class meetings served many purposes, such as weekly accountability for faithfully practicing spiritual disciplines. But they also brought people closer together. 

As Wesley said, “Participants now happily experienced that Christian fellowship of which they had not so much an idea before. They began to “bear one another’s burdens” and naturally to “care for each other.” As they had a more intimate acquaintance daily, they had a more endeared affection for each other. (A Plain Account of the People Called Methodist, ¶ II.7)

Yet even in the absence of human company, there is One whose presence we can always rely upon. Wesley believed that since Pentecost, the Holy Spirit brings the presence of God to all people and indwells all who have faith in Christ. God is close, not far away, and will be there when all else fails. On his deathbed, John Wesley found the strength to say, “The best of all is God with us.” He would agree with Paul in Romans 8 that nothing, not even death itself, can take us from the love of God.