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With four members from our congregation and about 1,200 other Episcopalians, I attended the Rooted in Jesus conference in Atlanta last week. Workshops covering a wide range of topics gave us plenty to choose from, and there were ample opportunities to worship and pray in traditional and not-so-traditional ways. While the conference was Episco-centric, there are some topics I'm still pondering that transcend faith traditions.

One workshop I attended focused on the increasing rates of loneliness. While the U.S. does not have a Minister of Loneliness like the United Kingdom, we do have a population where nearly half experience loneliness daily, and the comparison of health effects of loneliness are likened to be as serious as if one were obese: It's a major health crisis. Lest we think that our elderly members are those who are most alone, a survey reports (per 2018 data) that it's actually our Gen Z folks (the 18- to 22-year-olds specifically) who are most alone. Considering the populations at college campuses nearby, the statistics suggest that we have lots of lonely young adults in our midst.

Knowing that loneliness negatively affects mental health, I'm also keenly aware that suicide remains the 10th leading cause of death. In Arkansas, suicide is the second leading cause of death in 15- to 34-year-olds. Second. (Information about prevention education can be found at afsp.org.)

I mention both of these things because after being at a great family reunion of sorts, complete with a revival, there remain serious issues to address at home, issues for which people often seek out communities of faith. People seek companionship, for we are relational creatures, and when things are looking grim in the world around us, it makes sense to look for hope to counter despair. But maybe those who need companionship and hope aren't encouraged to enter a strange place full of new faces, especially a place with some sort of religious choreography and jargon. (We're particularly guilty of this in The Episcopal Church.)

As a mother of two younger teenagers and two who fall in the 18- to 22-year-old range, I think about what our church does and does not offer them. I also think about what I as a neighbor do and don't do for others. In my admittedly limited knowledge, I believe among all religious traditions there's a call to compassion and to care for others. Wherever our roots are grounded, whatever our source of motivation for seeking the well-being of all, I offer an invitation to pursue creative ways to engage meaningfully with others. How can we better build our communities of faith and our relationships with neighbors? It likely means we make a difficult, inconvenient first step, but it may very well save someone's life.

The Rev. Sara Milford serves as vicar of All Saints' Episcopal Church in Bentonville. You can reach her at [email protected], especially if you'd like to meet up for a warm beverage and a chat.

NAN Religion on 02/01/2020

Print Headline: Connection remains basic human need

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