“I don’t have any friends here anymore.” It’s the complaint that priests often hear from parishioners, especially as churches grow and change, and one sympathizes.
At every juncture in life, we are confronted with change, and change is disorienting. We become dependent on our surroundings and on the relationships that we forge. And while life in the church is ultimately about the healing work and mission that God does in our midst, it is easy for that web of dependencies to take priority over everything else.
Aging also accentuates the sense of loss we feel. Even those of us who once celebrated change and were open to new challenges find ourselves slowing in our ability to navigate the passage of time. Resistance to change sets in, and once that intuitive resistance takes hold, the influence it has grows.
All that said, here are some things to consider:
One, just as resistance to making new friends can take a deeper hold on our lives, so, too, the energy to nurture new friendships can grow and sustain itself. The person who stays other-directed late in life builds friendships across generations.
Two, in order for us to have friends, we need to be a friend. When Jesus told his disciples, that they were no longer servants but friends, he was emphasizing the mutuality of life and love in the Kingdom of God. He was not only describing a change in the character of their relationship with him, he was also charging them with a new responsibility for others.
Three, the complaint “I don’t have any friends”, then, betrays a misunderstanding of the church and our role in it. We are not called to be the passive recipients of the God’s blessings. We are blessed in order to be a blessing. The church is that place where our relationship with God and with one another is healed, strengthened and broadened. And it is our role as members of the body of Christ to participate in that mission.
Clergy and layleaders charged with the well being of a parish should remember this. The future of the church lies in a mission that is not only universal in its reach, but intergenerational, as well. While our hearts may go out to those who complain, “I don’t have any friends here anymore.”, it is a complaint that cannot hold the church back from living into God’s future for us.