No man is an island

Written by Fr. Ray Collier. 'No man is an island’ wrote John Donne, reminding us we are not made for isolation - physical, social or spiritual. One of the hardest things in this pandemic for most of us is the isolation and we have all witnessed the tremendous longing for connection. During my years in community ministry here in Birmingham I have come across many on the periphery of society, with nobody to talk to, nobody to listen to them or take an interest in them or their story. Thankfully some years ago I came upon The Rapha Listening Service., and became a volunteer. Rapha is a Hebrew word meaning ‘healing’. It was an inaugural service which provided Birmingham residents with an opportunity to engage in 1:1 listening support. Its aim was to address mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety, to help reduce social isolation and to create healthier lifestyles through follow-on positive and creative activities. The listening service has been operated from St. John’s House, Alun Rock, or from other appropriate venues by arrangement across Birmingham. Clients are referred from a variety of organisations and by self-referral. After an initial assessment to ensure that the service is appropriate for them, they are offered up to five 50 minute listening sessions, with others to follow if needed. Feedback indicates that clients value the opportunity to share their thoughts and concerns and talk about their circumstances with a trained listener. All had increased in confidence and felt more positive about the future and less alone. After I volunteered I attended training modules of effective and applied listening practice, which I found most helpful. All my clients have been men from across Birmingham and across all cultural, faith and ethnic backgrounds. Active listening provides a reflective framework for supporting another person in an attentive way, in a comfortable, non-judgemental environment, based on empathy and non-directive approach but without offering advice. It helps individuals to find their own solutions to their problems, through self-awareness and self-empowerment. It is based on the idea that many people need somebody to talk to, many have nobody who will listen to them or will take an interest in their story, without judging or dismissing them. It helps clients to feel respected and valued, giving them an opportunity to find within themselves the strength and strategies needed to deal with their problems and to move on with their lives. The opportunity to do this can be a cathartic experience. If necessary clients will be signposted to another, more appropriate agency, or another session arranged, if required. Due to the global pandemic and the UK government guidelines on staying home and social distancing, the service can no longer deliver a face-to-face listening service. However the need for support has increased, as many people experience the impact of losing social contact, increasing mental health issues and anxiety about the future. Rapha Listening Service has therefore introduced a Telephone Listening Service. ‘Good listening’, according to Henre Nouwen, ‘is the highest form of hospitality’.  For me, listening does not seek to change people but to offer them space where change and healing can take place. Now more than ever people need a listening ear. For more information about The Ralpha Listening Service, please visit For those requiring a friendly listening ear please call 0782 522 1150 or 0777 668 6855. Alternatively email Fr. Ray Collier is involvement in community ministry in East Birmingham, helping the city's most vulnerable communities and building bridges between different faiths.