I remember my mum’s almost daily routine of taking a walk into town, visiting Marks and Spencer and having a chat with the many friends and acquaintances who she would inevitably bump into. Many of the encounters would result in a visit to one of the town centre cafes.

Living alone can be isolating and lonely. For my mum and countless others, popping into Marks and Spencer was a life line. You may wonder what this has to do with the Saturday Sermon column. Loneliness is a scourge of our time and an especial problem amongst the elderly.

At the beginning of Creation, God said: “It is not good that we should be alone.” At the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus observes: “This is a lonely place.” He wasn’t speaking about the Judean wilderness; he was speaking about the human condition.

The closure of Marks and Spencer is a Christian concern because of the social implications for so many who do not have transport and find the walk into town to be an important way of socialising and easing their isolation.

I recognise the economic realities, I realise that the way we shop has changed. Online shopping and large supermarkets are fixtures of modern life. I’m also not implying that everyone who shops in Marks and Spencer is in the situation my mum was in. However, this closure does raise a bigger question about the direction and developments of our society. What will the impact be in regard to compounding the isolation and loneliness of those older citizens who daily venture into our town? What can we, as a town, do to fill this gap which is going to appear in their daily lives? Surely there is a sense of collective responsibility to strive to build community.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said: “The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or Leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved and uncared for. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty- it is a poverty of loneliness. There is a hunger for love, a hunger for God.”

It is a Christian necessity and obligation to care for the lonely. What can be done to reduce the social impact that will be a consequence of the closure of Marks and Spencer?

Rev Emmanuel Gribben

Parish Priest

Our Lady of Furness, Barrow