The following is a guest column by John E. Wagner, an attorney and Episcopal layman in Oklahoma City.
Loneliness is ever more endemic in our urbanized and automated society. The growth of the cities and the loss of neighborhood ties so dear in the days when American life was centered in the small towns have enhanced the psychological and spiritual loneliness of Americans.
Loneliness is not confined to the over-thirty crowd. It also afflicts the young, and married couples as well as singles.
The return to the suburbs and the regrowth of small towns surrounding the cities is in part due to the pervasive desire to return to a simpler existence where neighborliness can once again be found. All too often, in the cities, both homeowners and apartment dwellers do not know even the names of their next-door neighbors.
The merry-go-round of social events and the cocktail circuits of suburbia are often desperate attempts to break down the walls of isolation among adults. The youth subculture has devised its own means, legitimate and illegitimate, to fulfill the deep-seated needs for identity, fellowship, and relationships. The rise of the sensitivity groups is related to these same needs.
The establishment of thousands of nursing homes in the past fifteen years is a mixed blessing. Many of the aged sorely need normal social contacts, and the loving relationships of family and friends, rather than isolation and institutionalization.
The problem is not confined to secular society. It has invaded the churches. Time was when church members knew one another, prayed together, helped one another in need, and truly shared in the fellowship of the Gospel. Their love, too, reached beyond the church, in concern for those outside the fellowship of God. ...1