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Church targets loneliness with lessons in lasting friendship

The Reverend Beck Miller and Tom Cooper at Merri Creek Anglican. Picture: Janine Eastgate

Maya Pilbrow

15 September 2023

Merri Creek Anglican is tackling a loneliness epidemic by teaching community members the art of friendship.  

The Reverend Beck Miller recently ran a three-week course open to all focusing on how to make friends, how to be a good friend and what to do when friendships end. 

Mrs Miller said Merri Creek Anglican had long run courses for married people and parents, that helped people learn about healthy relationships. But she thought all people could benefit from these skills. 

Mrs Miller said friendship was a fundamental part of being human, but not enough people had a good idea of what healthy friendships looked like. She was also concerned the COVID-19 pandemic and social media had affected people’s ability to connect with one another. 

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Merri Creek member Micah Taylor said he attended the course to start thinking intentionally about friendships again and meet others doing the same, after moving to Melbourne in late 2022, where he knew few people. 

He said it felt like many people experienced a deep and pervasive dissatisfaction in their own relationships and he wanted to see how the church could help. 

Mr Taylor said the friendship course made him reflect on his own friendships, and consider things such as how he could listen better in conversations. 

For Jessica Lockery, the Merri Creek friendship course was a reminder that friendships were ongoing relationships that need tending and should not be taken for granted. 

She said the course was a way to learn practical skills for setting boundaries and communicating effectively in her own relationships.  

Dr Lockery said she appreciated the course being inclusive to non-Christians. She invited a non-Christian friend to attend with her, and found she could apply the teachings from the course in her friendships with people of all faiths.  

Mrs Miller said the course had given people the tools to start building their own friendships in healthy ways, by making them aware of the qualities of a good friend and a good friendship. 

Mrs Miller said she wanted to help people use their relationship with God to think about their other relationships, and she felt the church was well-equipped to do this. 

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“The gospel story is about God, and He’s sharing friendship with us. When Jesus comes into the world, that’s what He’s doing,” she said. “He’s making peace with us, making friends.” 

Mrs Miller drew on secular and religious sources when structuring the course, including references to scripture as well as more modern texts by the likes of Brené Brown and Sarah Abell. 

She said teaching people how to build and maintain healthy relationships could be part of churches’ long history of serving communities affected by loneliness. 

Fellow Merri Creek parishioner Jeanne Cheong said being exposed to a wide range of different perspectives in the course reminded her how complex humans and relationships could be. 

Ms Cheong said she had struggled with friendships in the past and had wondered if her own reactions had been part of the reason her friendships had not been successful. 

Ms Cheong said it was reassuring to know that people had been contemplating the nature of friendship throughout human history, and she was not alone in thinking this way. 

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