'I'm ill and on my own'

Dealing with sickness can be extremely difficult when you have no partner to help. How can leaders help their single church members?

Sick, single and in your church: how leaders can help

 By Catherine Francis     

 ‘Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.’James 5 v 14

 ‘Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord … When did we see you sick … and go to visit you?” The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” Matthew 25 v 37-40


It’s never easy dealing with illness, whatever our circumstances. However, facing sickness can be particularly difficult for people with no ‘significant other’ to help – whether it’s a short-term illness or a chronic, serious or life-limiting condition.

Most of us rely more than we realise on our partners and family when hard times hit, but for single people, there’s no back-up. Housemates (if they have them) may be willing to run errands to buy food or medications, but they can’t become full-time carers. This means single people may find themselves stuck in hospital for longer than is necessary, or struggling at home with little support as council budgets for home care are slashed.

It’s even more difficult for single parents, who have no option but to continue caring for their children, regardless of their own health, particularly if they don’t have family or a supportive ex-partner nearby.

How can I help?

Most church leaders see visiting the sick to offer support and administer communion as an integral part of their ministry, and many are good at mobilising church members to help each other in times of difficulty. However, many single Christians feel desperately let down by their churches – they tell us they are forgotten and discarded, just when they most need the love and support of their family in Christ.

So how can a busy church leader best support their single parishioners during times of sickness, and not leave people feeling forgotten and alone at their most vulnerable times? Here are a few suggestions from single Christians…

Make prayer requests part of everyday church life’

Many churches have means by which members can make prayer requests – for instance, an invitation on church notices to email their needs, or a ‘prayer chain’ where requests are passed along a chain of praying parishioners. Not only does this give ministers a chance to include people in personal and corporate prayers, but it’s also a great way to be alerted to people’s needs.

‘It means a lot to me when I hear I’ve been named in the prayers in a service when I’m too ill to get there. We also have a small group who pray every morning in the church, and I email requests to them. And I can call my vicar almost anytime and he prays on the phone with me, which is very comforting.’

 ‘I went to three churches asking for help and prayers. Not one of them got in touch. Who has helped me? Non-Christians! I’ve recently had to give up work due to ill health. At hospital, I was asked if there was anyone to look after me. I felt very sorry for myself when I said I lived alone. I ended up being carted off to my mother’s.’

Teach your church to be a community’

Church isn’t just about worship and personal spiritual development. A healthy church is a community that actively loves and supports each other. People living alone may struggle to care for themselves, and have nobody to make them a meal or run to the pharmacy. You can help by encouraging church members to be purposeful about mobilising practical care. This could include rotas for delivering meals, visiting, shopping, driving people to hospital, looking after children or simply offering a listening ear.

 This is often easier in smaller churches with a local congregation, so larger churches usually have small groups that allow closer relationships to develop. You can remind your congregation that struggling with illness on your own is a lonely experience, but we can all bring a little light into someone’s darkness.

‘When I was very ill and living on my own, my church had a rota to bring me food and make sure I had visits. If my church knows someone needs caring for, they’re there for you.’

I have life-threatening illnesses that have to be managed. It gets very lonely knowing that no one except an ambulance will come to my aid when things get sticky. When I mentioned to people at church my fears about becoming too ill to call for help, I was told I was attention-seeking, so I don’t mention it any more. No one from church ever visited, called or emailed. I’ve moved to a different church now, but I don’t raise my hopes much.’

‘When someone is in crisis, we organise to deliver meals, do shopping and help with children. A live and loving church must have a great line in communication and helping out each other. Our motto is: “What would Jesus do?”. When I became single, people gave me money and vouchers, and invited us for lunch. The fellowship in my church is amazing – and there are only about 20 of us!’

‘After a period of mental illness, it was my non-Christian colleagues who reached out to include me, rather than anyone from church. I was very hurt. It’s such a shame to feel more accepted, welcomed and supported by non-Christians than Christians, especially at a low point in your life.’

‘I generally had a positive experience when I was out of action with spinal surgery. People visited, took me out, got in touch, and prayed with me and for me.’

Check in on us regularly’

People struggling with ill-health on their own may be embarrassed to contact you frequently with updates on their progress, or worry about being a burden or irritation. Having their minister checking in regularly, even if it’s just a quick call or email to see how they’re doing, goes a long way to making people feel loved and cared for.

‘Our elders are very aware of the problems people in our church face. They’re always there to talk, pray and help. One of our single mums has been quite ill for months, and the elders and their wives keep in touch with her and visit her.’

‘I live with long-term illness. I have no family, I’m totally alone – all I have is my little dog. When I was still in a church, they weren’t bothered about me. Even just a phone call or five minutes of prayer would have been nice. I’ve left now. Leaders need to rethink how we do church – it’s not just about Sunday morning. Churches focus on families with children, but everyone should be included. I’d set up a care team specifically for people who are ill or elderly and alone.’

‘I hate being ill and it’s worse when you have kids – you still have to feed them and do the school run, giving up the sleep you desperately need and prolonging the sickness and agony to keep the kids going. I often break down in tears of self-pity and heartbreak.’

‘Don’t neglect home visits – we really need them’

Visits are a God-send for people who are long-term sick or housebound, and unable to attend church – otherwise, they may not see another human being from one week to the next. A chat, prayer and communion is incredibly valuable.

Struggling with a long-term or painful condition, or an illness that may lead to death, obviously has a profound effect on a person’s mental and emotional health, and they may need counselling and spiritual reassurance. In some denominations, of course, priests are called upon to administer the Last Rites – a deep and comforting ritual for dying people and their families.

‘My church’s denomination doesn’t allow pastors to visit women on their own. Having now been off work sick for two and a half months, and being a single woman, I’ve had no pastoral visits. They have no idea how that makes us feel as single Christian women.’

‘My vicar visits me weekly. I really appreciate it. We chat, she prays for me, and sometimes she brings me communion. It’s the high point of my week. She tells me what’s going on at church, so I still feel part of it, even though I’m now too frail to get there often.’

With thanks to: Lorna, Melanie, Andrew, Louise, Rachel, Cathy, Merci, George, Lina, Ada, Pat and Meg.


Single church members can find suggestions for coping with short-or long-term illness here, where you will also find information for helping your church member get the support they’re entitled to.