church and loneliness

church and loneliness cartoon by nakedpastor david hayward
“Church and Loneliness” (by nakedpastor David Hayward)

I have come to conclude that existential loneliness is our default position. But when we are a part of the church, many of us assume that because we are surrounded by people our loneliness will be remedied. Not!

Some claim that it is when we are most out of touch with our truest selves that we experience the deepest sense of loneliness because we don’t even know or love ourselves. I think this is true.

I want to share with you a little bit today about my online community, The Lasting Supper. There are some church-goers there. But there are also many people who’ve left the church. Unanimously, we all agree that we still experience this existential loneliness. We also realize that going back to a church will not solve this problem. We have lost friends. But we wonder how genuine the friendships were in the first place. We used to be lonely surrounded by people. Now we are lonely without the crowd.

Online relationships are not the same as face to face. I’ll admit that. But I also have to admit that since launching The Lasting Supper, I have made genuine friends and have found a community in which I can totally be myself. I would love love love to be with these people. But since that’s not possible right now, meeting and sharing together online suffices. I mean, I see one or two now and then. But the group of us. Not possible. But we are communicating and fellowshipping and supporting one another online with The Lasting Supper website, as well as our secret Facebook group which is super active and fun. Plus we have chatrooms which are simply a riot!

We are planning some meet-ups. In fact, many of our members… there are over 300 members now… are meeting up in their different locations around the world. In April 2014 we are planning on having a gathering in Las Vegas. I can’t wait. I love these people, and they love me. We feel it. And it’s wonderful.

The loneliness Lisa and I experienced while in the church… because we felt limited in how much we could be ourselves… and the loneliness we experience now… because we are no longer surrounded by people… is somewhat remedied by our online community. Because we can be real with real people who are supportive, great listeners, validating, respectful, and fun.

So, are you lonely? Are you looking for a super-safe place where you can be appreciated, respected and loved as the real you? I personally and warmly invite you to check out The Lasting Supper. Will I see you there?

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36 Replies to “church and loneliness”

  1. And no topic is considered off-limits. You can share and there will always be someone who can relate, chime in, etc. In the Church, there’s too much concern about something being taboo, thus leading to artificial relationships. And our group is not perfect. People say things that offend others, but we’re generally quick to make amends without sweeping it under the rug. That doesn’t often happen in church. Quite the opposite: the offense is swept under the rug hoping to never be dealt with again. Nothing gets resolved. I’ll take real and flawed any day over superficial parading as real and genuine.

  2. I love the idea of a church group having a gathering in Las Vegas. You can cut the irony with a knife. 🙂

  3. Well, we’re not a church group, Ron. We’re people with varying experiences within the Church–some still in, olthers not. That similarity drew us together, but we have found other areas of commonality and our gathering will just be about being with like-minded people.

    But I always have found it ironic that churches would go to Vegas for conferences or gambling junkets all while postulating for holiness. Now THAT IS ironic. But that’s not us.

  4. Not really sure where the irony is, everything that goes on in Las Vegas, goes on in every city and small/medium town in America.

  5. This may be true Al, but not every city and small and medium town in America is nicknamed “Sin City” and has the marketing campaign “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”

  6. your group aside, that was the irony I was trying to point out but apparently was lost of Brother Al.

  7. The problem of mainline (liberal) churches in Germany is that everyone go away after the end of a service. They are utterly unwilling to stay more than 10 minutes to discuss and build up relationships.

    In Evangelical churches, people can stay during hours to discuss and are (generally) very kind to each others but their theology is way too conservative for me.

    So I prefer now to meet new Christian people through this Internet.

    This helps me a lot overcoming my existential loneliness, as soon as some kinds of bonds have been constructed.

  8. I understand the sense of isolation that seems pervasive in church culture. I have spent many hours this past year as a 66 year old trying to determine why this seems to be a characteristic of church community, even in the church that I have been a member of for 35 years and in which I have held leadership positions. When I recently went through a personal crisis, it was my longtime friends and neighbors outside the church community that rushed to inquire about my well being and support me. Interestingly enough, it was not my church “family.” I haven’t quite figured out the paradox of this situation, but I am working at it.

  9. As a person who had left Christianity and returned I had posed myself the very same question, and to answer it I feel it is important to address I think a common charge among nonbelievers, namely, what can one obtain from a church they cannot obtain elsewhere. I mean one can go hear an important talk and commune with like minded individuals at any number of places. When it comes down to it, the source of this existential loneliness is a lack of the sacramental character within churches. I don’t say this to be uneccumenical (if that is a word). but rather an observation that loneliness is a part of the human condition, that left to it’s own without the transformative graces of a sacramental communion, leaves the soul desiring any sort of communion it can find. this is not to exclude the importance of community within a parish, it is vitally important, but to do so at the exclusion of the full communion we are called to in Christ can become a kind of idol in itself. to that extent then, the infinite existential loneliness has it’s answer in an infinite God who himself shares in us through his incarnation in that existential loneliness upon the cross and it is transformed in the same way we too are called, to take up our cross and follow Him. to take upon that communion body, blood, soul and divinity, and bring it out into the world. We simply cannot bottle it up within ourselves, and share it among cliques and clubs but we must receive it and take it out to the world. and so long as Christians retain the concept of their sunday service as a place to chit chat and listen to a talk, they will be missing out on the most beneficial aid they may ever receive, Christ Himself.

  10. If you just got to chuch on Sunday then leave, and don’t do activites and or small groups throughout the week you are not in “church”. Church is a active living community not a once a week meetup.

  11. Unfortunately, some do engage in activities and small groups, but as someone else pointed out, often it can turn into cliques and there is no real seeking after Christ and the subsequent community that results. Personally, I’m not looking for a social club. Obviously there are social benefits that come as a result of gathering together, but a church that is so inwardly focused that it resembles a club more than a body of believers seeking to incarnate God’s will in the world, is not something I’m looking for.

  12. Christ is in community. Being in a community is hard. You actually have to interact with people you disagree with and love them. It takes a lot of work. No work and you get a cilque but with work you find Christ.

  13. No doubt. But if you’re in a community trying to make it work, and that community is mostly made up of cliques, it can be very difficult to make inroads. Clique members have to want something better. In fact, they often don’t know anything is missing because the clique is a form of community. Unfortunately, it’s the type of community that repels outsiders.

  14. Jon: please define ‘sacramental communion’… you have me a bit curious.

    Much love in Christ always and unconditionally; Caryn

  15. I sort of like going to church, really. I have attended twice in the last year, and it was fun. Lots of singing, some good thoughts, sort of like a birthday celebration or 4th of July party.

    I am enjoying a balance between my need for ‘beloved community’ and ‘spiritual independence’ — but my community is on FB and TLS. My independence is here, at my home, praying … learning… researching… pondering. Lovely mix, really.

    But churches just have not been a place for ‘beloved community’ for me. As a transsexual that walks with Christ, that has a bisexual orientation (some men are hot; some women are hot; it’s just a chemical thing)… I have been accused by church staff (to my face) of sexual promiscuity, to cheating others out of getting to know my prior male external body, of having an ‘agenda’ that is anti-church, and of needing to be handled ‘on a case by case basis’. Amazing unfounded accusations and prejudice… yet, they truly believed those things against me.

    Who knows all the evils they said behind my back?

    So, institutional churches are just for an occasional need of mine for a good celebration with lots of loud singing. I like to be among them. They are brothers and sisters in Christ… but, good grief, they are not even ‘on my radar’ for helping with any loneliness issues I may have. Their accusations, rudeness, prejudice, inability to even allow me a defense, and not-so-subtle rejection(s) and unspoken demands to externally conform, only added to my sense of being alone.

    Maybe I’ll attend again come Christmas or New Year’s eve. I like parties. Really, I do. Fun… silly and wonderful fun.

    Much love in Christ always and unconditionally; Caryn

  16. I look at this from the perspective shared by Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians, which is namely, that when we gather together each sunday (or more often in the case of daily mass) the sermon and even the fact that we are together become secondary. instrumental to this time is God’s word in the scriptures and the word made flesh in the eucharist. A mass technically even need not a sermon, but without these two vital things a mass cannot be a mass . A mass could be set in a desert island with only the priest and nobody in the proverbial pews, and it is still a mass if we meditate upon God’s word and share of him in this very unique way of communion which Christ introduced to us in John’s gospel, our loneliness both figuratively and literally is an illusion. for in the eucharist we receive Christ in a way that speaks to us in our mind, in our soul and in our body. it touches the entire person. this does not remove from us the obligation to be with our brothers and sisters in Christ in times of loneliness, but it allows us in moments when this is not possible, context for how we can work through it.

    I do not to say that we do not feel pain from the illusion of loneliness, we very well do, but, (and I think this is also another important note) our sufferings are not useless or in vain unless we choose to make them so. St. Paul says in Colossians 1:24 “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.”. Christ Himself suffers this alienation at the garden of Gethsemane and upon the cross. St Paul takes his sufferings and places it in union with Christ’s mission for the salvation of souls that are to come. In other words, Much of Christianity I feel needs to reevaluate suffering not as personal pain, but as a cross we carry for our souls and the souls of others. The perspective of communion with Christ and his sacrifice upon the cross, to which sacramental communion properly understood contextualizes, allows us to utilize the graces given to us by the sacrament to do this and all that God asks of us.

  17. Jon: thank you for sharing your thoughts. I do like Eucharist/communion, and normally perform the ceremony once per year on/near Passover. I personally have found that communion means little to me if taken every week or month (however, that is just my view).

    However, I do commune with the Holy Spirit of God many times during the week, and have found that has helped my illusion of loneliness quite a bit.

    Much love in Christ always and unconditionally; Caryn

  18. Forgive me if I seem forward, but I think the question here should not be “how can I conform my worship to suit my whims?”, but “what does it mean to worship in the first place?” Observe God himself, the entire trinity is a community unto itself. look into Genesis, man was not made to be alone, see the development of the covenant from the family of Abraham, to Noah, as it expands outward to the tribes of Moses, to the nation of Israel, and in Christ, moving outward to the corners of the world itself. The “Jesus n’ me mentality is great for a start, but worship moves outward AND upward, even the hermits belong to a church, and not merely some invisible idea of church.

    in that regard, man’s relation to church is as inseparable as God’s relation to truth. Paul in Ephesians alludes to this among other things when he says “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.”. Here Church means all of us and as Paul was a bishop writing this epistle he is referring to the church collectively as well. And as close as this union is, there is no room for error, or relativism in the dimension of truth. for to have more than one “truth” contradicting one another is to posses another god, in conflict with God who is not only true but all of truth itself. it is all connected. in the final analysis, we need to make an important choice. As C.S. Lewis once wrote in “The Great Divorce” “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened. ”

    Let us pray for God’s wisdom.

  19. Certainly I have encountered moments where in my ignorance I forget Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, but my ignorance does nothing to change the reality of the situation. In 1 Corinthians it is written:

    “…whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.”

    and St. Jean Vianney had written once,

    “If we could comprehend all the good things contained in Holy Communion, nothing more would be wanting to content the heart of man. The miser would run no more after his treasures, or the ambitious after glory; each would shake off the dust of the earth, leave the world, and fly away towards heaven,”

    These words are a great meditation on ruminate upon. that no matter how often we engage in this sacrament, He remains the same, and it is us who changes more surely to His image. therefore our hearts and minds should always be aware. and they can be aware so long as we choose to do so. but we must humble ourselves and see with the eyes of faith, so that we can approach God who humbles himself before us, until the two see one another, face to face.

  20. Jon: sure, I will forgive you. It is seldom I find a man so presumptive. I never stated that I conformed my worship to suit my whims. The Passover is sacred to many people. “This cup” and “this bread” most likely meant the wine and bread of Passover… and Passover is once per year. As I understand the scripture, you surely have the liberty of performing communion/Eucharist more often, but that is your freedom.

    But… on the other hand, I do concur with you that I am married to Christ. Therefore, I am not alone. I do belong to a church … it is defined in Matthew Chapter 25: the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, those in prison, the homeless, and those in need of clothing – they are my church.

    Blessings on your journey. Much love in Christ always and unconditionally; Caryn

  21. I have been down the “activities” path. Awana, ladies bible studies (i even led a couple), etc… And what you wind up with, in most cases, is an artificial sense of relationship. Everything is facilitated: dialogue, more activities on top of the regular ones, directive to reach out to one another. No one actually goes to each other’s houses, or gets together spontaneously.
    It leaves one with a sense of unrequited love.

  22. You have to put the work in to make it work. You have to put the work in to make it spiritual. Spiritual dose not happen by accident.
    Plus remember the church is made of of humans, sinful humans. To expect community to just happen without hard work is not realisitc.
    In any organization you have a very small percentage doing the heavy lifting while eveyone else rides along. This will happen anywhere there are humans.

  23. With all due respect, for a man who has said only days ago, “I strive for what all Christians would consider apostasy.” I am not surprised. You may have an image of Christ on your icon, but with an attitude like that you certainly are no Christian, and it is rather misleading to some to fly a false flag.

    for an atheist, it certainly is more comforting to presume that if there was a god, the ideal would be a god that makes no demands. given the choice between our theologies you choose the path of least change and resistance. An understandable rationale, though one would argue, not necessarily the grounds for making the best choice.

  24. I think i was clear in my original comment. I DID put in the work. Been there, done that. Yes it is a small percentage doing the heavy lifting, but heavy lifting does not a relationship make.

    Let’s not bypass the role of the holy spirit. Community happens because he draws us together. I can’t “make” anything spiritual. Christ lives in me and through me. To think that my effort makes his presence more tangible or “makes” an activity spiritual or holy is utter foolishness.

  25. I disagree I think you can make something spiritual but that is a different disscusion. God works because we remain in him.
    Sounds like you just were in a Church with fake christians. It is definately better to leave a place like that than to keep pounding your head against the wall.
    Good luck on your journey 🙂

  26. Wow. You are certainly presumptive, Livin. No, the church my family attends is not full of “fake” christians. My original comment stands.

  27. I am very lonely at church. And it is good to know I am not the only person who feels that way. I have tried and tired to volunteer but still ignored. I think I am about done now. I shall just read my Bible, religious books, and listen to the radio’s sermons. Well my church has it on Youtube guess I can catch it there. My alienation is from being single and not in the cliché which exist at most churches. Not really strange or nerd but well I just do not know anymore.

  28. Well humans are imperfect and flawed which is the main component of the religious congregation. No one cannot get around that fact; however what happened to the concern, just take an interest in the church folk who really try and help, be active in attendance, who are outgoing…but again if you are not in the clique or married you are ignored!!! It is sad but that is just the way it is in churches today. If I do not attend church no one misses me or really cares. I think it is the human flaw of take care of self and keep to self. Plus our obsession with media (email, texting, Facebook, Twitter) which keeps us more distant.

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