Summer bucket list helps church address the loneliness epidemic

Hiking trails perfumed with pine needles. Lakes shimmering like diamonds. Mountaintop sunrises that awaken the soul, and valley sunsets that tug at the heart.

It’s summertime in Vermont’s Green Mountains and, borrowing from George Gershwin’s opening aria in the 1935 production of “Porgy and Bess,” the “livin’ is easy.”

Or is it?

First Congregational Church of Burlington has discovered that sometimes all that life has to offer doesn’t make things easier, but rather a bit more challenging — especially when it comes to fostering a deeper sense of community.

Ava Bilton, though, has found an innovative way to promote the church’s activities that make coming together “fun, inspirational and motivational.” The director of congregational life has created a “Summer Together Bucket List” filled with opportunities for fellowship and service that are to be checked off once completed.

Ava Bilton joined First Congregational Church of Burlington this past February as director of congregational life.

“The magic of summer is something that First Church leans into,” said Bilton. “But with a diverse community with a variety of interests, abilities and ages, reflecting that in our church programming can seem a little disparate.”

‘Created for connection’

Pulling all the activities into an eye-catching illustrated list not only serves to promote what’s coming up as the dog days of summer progress; it also serves as a reminder — “an invitation,” says Bilton — to reach out to another and do the activity together. The list, she adds, is void of any solo activities. And that was intentional.

First Congregational Church of Burlington, Vermont, created a summer bucket list to highlight upcoming activities while building community.

“Jesus was a master community builder, reaching out to people in love. I would argue that is how he changed the world,” said Bilton, stressing that “we are created for connection.”

That connection, though, takes “intention and effort” — two things that can no longer be overlooked, especially as the loneliness epidemic continues in the U.S.

A public health epidemic

In May 2023, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, called loneliness a public health epidemic. And while Covid isolation — which fueled feelings of loneliness —has eased considerably, loneliness statistics have not.

Early this year, in an American Psychiatric Association’s Healthy Minds Monthly Poll, 30% of adults said that they have experienced feelings of loneliness at least once a week over the past year. Ten percent said they felt lonely daily.

First Church takes those studies seriously and has made “Better Together” the overarching theme of its missions and programming for 2024.

“We are encouraging one another to be intentional in building stronger relationships. The summer bucket list is just one way to reinforce that theme,” said Bilton.

Bilton was inspired to create the “Summer Together Bucket List” from the village of Flossmoor, Illinois, located just south of Chicago.

“The village made their own winter bucket lists that were so charming and engaging. I was inspired to use the idea for our church,” she said. With one little tweak, though. The list would not be used to ward off winter’s cabin fever.  

“Summer is a prime opportunity to have fun together — what better place to do that than church?” said Bilton.

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Categories: United Church of Christ News

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