'I am so lonely I sometimes want to die': The scandal that's a challenge to the Church
I am very keen not to be type-cast as that 'memory café bloke'. So I spread my wings a bit and help out at our new toddlers' group at church. Or I plough back into planning sermon series and visiting people who are sick. I even try writing about other things like why we should read old Christian books and save a few trees.
But each time I step away the issue of loneliness comes right back to hit me in the face and make me truly wonder if this issue is so important that the God who made the heavens and the earth wants us to do something about it.
Two things happened this week. Someone came and knocked on the vicarage door wanting to talk. We had a cuppa and chitter-chattered, and my wife and I sat down with this person who we had never met before. As is so often the way, the presenting issue was not the full story. Eventually our guest said, 'I am so lonely I sometimes want to die.' My word! How deeply and impossibly sad. In this, the greatest city the world has ever seen, is a precious person who feel lonely to the core of their being.
And just today the final report of the Jo Cox Loneliness Commission, established by the Labour MP before she was stabbed to death, has called for a 'minister for loneliness' to be appointed and a national strategy to tackle what it describes as an 'urgent crisis'.
It's found that more than 9 million adults are often or always lonely, that loneliness is deadlier than obesity or smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and that three-quarters of GPs say they see up to five patients every day who are lonely.
What do we Christians do about this? Because one thing I am sure of is that we have to act – as surely as we have to act for any of the other issues of social justice we care about.
Every time I try to open another door, the issue of isolation just keeps coming up.
I stumbled across loneliness. People in my congregation told me how they sometimes didn't see a living soul all week. And then I began to come across people I loved and cared for who had dementia. I call loneliness and dementia evil twins.
We just opened our doors, put the kettle on and invented a few quizzes. We called it memory café and went from there. There are now seven cafes set up based on our model and we are developing a kit so anyone can set one up. Our website has lots of helpful stuff on it.
But memory cafés are just one dent. Churches are trying many different things and that fills me with hope.
But here's the rub, I think we need to do something and start now. We can't wait for someone else to do it for us. My hunch is that if you were to knock on the 10 doors either side of your church's front door you would find a people so lonely they want to die. I for one just can't live with that.
Jesus didn't tell a parable about the lonely widow living next to a church. This was probably because loneliness of the kind our precious friends suffer wasn't imaginable in the society in which he lived. But if he was here now I feel he might have something to say and that he would encourage us to tackle loneliness.
When I was a boy I would go to visit my grandmother. She was deaf and lived alone in small council flat. Every time I turned up she would be looking out of the window. I realise now that was because she was hoping that someone might come and talk to her and help her to feel less lonely.
I couldn't really help then. But I can now.
Steve Morris is the parish priest of St Cuthbert's North Wembley. Before being a priest he was a writer and ran a brand agency. In the 1980s he tried to become a pop star. Follow him on Twitter @SteveMorris214