Barney Schwartz is the former religion editor of The Age, a position he curated for many years.He has recently joined the Centre for Public Christianity and writes occasional pieces. Here, he writes about “next door”…
People sometimes offer highly personal details. Earlier this month a woman confided plaintively she had lived in my suburb for 39 years and did not know anyone in the neighbourhood. Shift work made it difficult for her to find friends.
Within two days she received a dozen replies, offering to meet her for coffee and inviting her to join a sewing group. This was my advice: “I’ve made scores of acquaintances and a few good friends walking my dog. You don’t have to have a dog to walk, and you’ll be surprised how often people stop and chat, especially if you admire their dogs.” Someone from the next suburb confirmed that experience.
By now everyone knows how badly lockdowns have affected so many people’s mental health (along with all the other costs) and how they have enormously increased loneliness. So it is deeply encouraging that ordinary Australians want to reach out to other ordinary Australians in simple ways, as Thinking out Loud has previously recounted.
Many churches report the same thing: people come not because they believe but because they want to belong to something, and many of them gradually become believers. Because if you take comfort in God, loneliness will never have quite the same intensity.