Loneliness, or the feeling of being cut off from others, is an epidemic among people in America. Studies have shown that up to half of Americans are lonely. While some may think that clergy have a strong built-in community, this is not often the case. According to leadership development consultants Mary Kay DuChene and Mark Sundby, clergy are as lonely as the general population.
In A Path to Belonging: Overcoming Clergy Loneliness, DuChene and Sundby argue that clergy need to address their experience of loneliness. First, loneliness can interfere with leadership effectiveness. Second, it offers a ministry opportunity to connect with people around the topic of loneliness. But clergy must first deal with their own loneliness and begin to experience the healing balm of social connection.
Each chapter begins with a case study that illustrates an aspect of clergy loneliness. DuChene and Sundby draw on original research on loneliness among clergy across denominations, first administering the state-of-the-art inventory to measure loneliness and then following up with qualitative interviews. They also draw on years of experience working directly with clergy and congregations. The authors then offer tools and remedies for the path toward a healthy sense of contentment and belonging. The book also explores what judicatory leaders, congregations, and friends and family of clergy can do to support clergy.
By normalizing and reframing loneliness, however, A Path to Belonging not only suggests ways to overcome the loneliness present in ministry. DuChene and Sundby propose an even larger vision: Perhaps clergy can also help the congregations they serve become social connectors in their communities and thereby begin to solve the epidemic of loneliness in the United States.