I was surprised on the weekend when I read the special feature in the At Home magazine published by The Advertiser, “The Surprise Benefits of Helping Out.” “We have seen an outpouring of community engagement and willingness to help out informally in recent times whether by fetching groceries for a neighbour or gathering supplies for flood affected communities.” One author, Heather Mitchell, researcher from the ANU affirmed the benefits of volunteerism and the way it develops a sense of purpose, “If you sit around all day, you get old. I’d much rather be out there doing things, meeting people and imparting knowledge.”
A recent research project is summarised in COTA’s March-May newsletter. The Bankwest Curtain Economics Centre has released their “Stronger Together: Loneliness and Social Connectedness in Australia study.”
Their report explores recent trends in social connectivity and concludes that “there has been in steady decline for the past decade and decreased dramatically during the pandemic with associated poor health outcomes. Co authors spoke at the launch and reported that the study found loneliness was associated with poor physical and mental health outcomes and came at a social and economic cost.” https://bcec.edu.au/news/bcec-launches-stronger-together-loneliness-and-social-connectedness-in-australia-report/
For me insights about the value of volunteerism and its response to social isolation raises critical questions about assets that local churches bring to changing communities. Many volunteer groups and community building initiatives will not only have questions about where can we meet but who can we work with and who will be our partners in creating stronger caring communities?
Congregations that are incarnational in their neighbourhoods will find new ways to use their buildings. This involves using space for volunteers to meet and serve. Groups that share space will also commit to being partners with others and discover new ways to strengthen community links and support for those isolated and living alone. Not so much now as us doing it to or for them but together in partnerships and collaboration finding the resources to do what’s needed.
Well know US public theologian, H Richard Niebuhr concludes his paper on “The Purpose of the Church and Its Ministry” with this insight, “When all is said and done the increase of this love of God and neighbor remains the purpose and the hope of our preaching of the gospel, of all our church organization and activity, of all our ministry, of Christianity itself.”