By Dana Cassell
Being a pastor is a lonely gig. Just ask your own pastor, if you dare. It’s a big job to be present for so many people’s every spiritual and emotional need, and at the same time, be unable to share openly with them about your own.
So it was refreshing to gather with 43 others at last month’s Church of the Brethren Clergy Women’s Retreat. We laughed, prayed, played in the Pacific, and thought intentionally about friendship, fellowship… and the lack thereof.
But pastors aren’t alone in loneliness. Melissa Wiginton guided our conversation about togetherness, and she shared a study by UCLA that says 30 percent of Americans self-identify as lonely at any given moment. Even more striking? Three out of every five American adults over the age of 45 feel consistently lonely.
What does this mean for ministry, for the church, for our own discipleship?
A couple of things. First, as I watch my own congregation delight in simple fellowship—sharing a meal, or conversation after worship—I am convinced that the church’s mission is, at base, to provide space and invitation for people to enter into deep, Christ-centered relationship.
And second, I’m struck by how restorative it was to spend time with other clergy women. The opportunity to simply be with others who are also out there, doing this lonely, beautiful work of ministry was a blessing.
Part of the gift of our Brethren tradition is the assumption that being together is reason enough to be together. This is a gift that we can share, a ministry in itself.
So next time you go to church, take a minute to thank your pastor or another leader in your congregation. And then take a step further and bring that blessing to the streets. Sometimes all it takes is eye contact and a smile for the cashier across the counter, or a classmate in the hall, to feel less alone. Imagine the blessing that a church on this kind of mission could be to a culture so filled with lonely people.
Dana Cassell is minister for Youth Formation at Manassas Church of the Brethren in Virginia. She was one of several participants in the Clergy Women’s Retreat last month, which was sponsored by the Church of the Brethren’s Office of Ministry. To support this and other uplifting denominational ministries, visit www.brethren.org/give .