What happens when more and more people start disconnecting from church as well as other forms of clubs and civic groups that provided a lot of the cohesion in past generations? It seems quite likely that when these folks retire and a few of their friends leave or die, the outcome is what is being seen as a significant problem in the UK – loneliness, isolation and a resulting increase in alcohol-related problems.
I believe that the UK is seeing what we will see here in another generation (since the British starting emptying their churches earlier than we did here). When I consider the population currently between 20-40 years old, I wonder where their sense of community will be found twenty or thirty years from now. For now, I think many are glad that the community structures provided by an older generation are there in the background. They are grateful when they see these communities caring for their parents and grandparents when they have needs. These kinds of inter-generational communities that intentionally meet the needs of a diverse body of connected people are not disappearing, but they are fading.
A handful of friends that are very similar in lifestyle and interests (what Bellah et al called a “lifestyle enclave” in Habits of the Heart) is a great thing to have, but most of these enclaves will not have the stability, the diversity and the intentionality to provide much support when health issues, mobility and other factors start to fragment them.
And so, younger friends (in particular), I ask you: “what intentional and inter-generational communities are you helping build for the future of your peers and your children?” And are we ready to start looking out for a generation that will be entering into old age, many of whom will only find a bottle for a friend?
Mother Teresa saw loneliness as the greatest poverty – and she saw this as the truth of it was only beginning to multiply.