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Try out PMC Labs and tell us what you think. Learn More. This study has two principal aims. The first goal is to empirically evaluate new measures of close companion friendships that arise in church. The second goal is to embed these measures in a conceptual model that seeks to assess the relationship between close companion friends at church and health. Based on data from a nationwide sample of older people, the findings reveal that the newly devised measures are psychometrically sound.

In addition, the provide empirical support for the following linkages that are contained in our conceptual model: older people who have a close companion friend at church are Friend companion more likely to feel they belong in their congregation; old adults who believe they belong in their congregation are more likely to feel grateful to God; and older individuals who feel grateful to God tend to rate their health more favorably. An impressive of studies suggest that people who are more deeply involved in religion tend to have better physical and mental health than individuals who are not involved in religion Koenig, McCullough and Larson Now researchers must explain why this may be so.

A growing body of research supports this view. Some studies suggest that deleterious effects of stress may be reduced for people who rely on religious coping responses Pargament Other studies indicate that individuals who forgive others for the things they have done tend to have better physical and mental health than people who are not willing to forgive McCullough, Pargament and Thoresen Prayer appears to be an important factor, as well Levin Although these studies have made a valuable contribution to the literature, the purpose of the current study is to strike off in a different direction by delving into an area that has received much less attention: close companion friendships that arise among fellow church members.

Research on church-based friendships is justified because scholars have been arguing for over years that social relationships lie at the very heart of religion. Evidence of this may be found, for example, in the work of Edward Alsworth Rosswho was an early president of the American Sociological Association. In fact, Ross went as far as to define religion solely in terms of its social roots.

But sociologists were by no means the only scholars to recognize the strong social underpinnings of religion. Although the justification for studying the social foundation of religion was established over years ago, it is hard to translate the insights of the classic social theorists into specific hypotheses that can be evaluated empirically. The problem arises because there are many different types of social relationships in church and it is not clear which one s may be associated with health Friend companion more Krausefor a detailed discussion of church-based social relationships.

So far, the majority of the studies on church-based social ties have Friend companion more concerned with social support that is provided by fellow church members. Social support is assistance that is given specifically to help someone cope with the deleterious effects of stressful events, such as the death of a loved one or financial difficulty Antonucci ; Krause This work is important because research reveals that the social support provided by coreligionists tends to reduce the noxious impact of stress on Friend companion more e.

Two fundamental aspects of social support underscore the boundaries associated with this type of social relationship measure. First, assistance during difficult times may be provided by people who are and are not close companion friends. Second, even though people at church help each other when stressful events arise, the social relationships they develop and maintain with coreligionists involve much more than crisis management. Instead, a good deal of the time they spend with others takes place outside the context of the stress process.

Focusing on companion friendships helps illustrate this point Cocking and Kennett Other investigators have focused on different dimensions of social relationships, including social networks e. Social networks are typically assessed by determining how often study participants have been in contact with the people they know. However, it is not possible to tell from these measures whether contact has been established and maintained with close companion friends, or whether contact has been made with more casual acquaintances.

So far, there appears to be only one study in the literature that empirically evaluates close companion friendships in church McFadden, Knepple and Armstrong The purpose of this study was to see if the degree of emotional closeness is greater among friends at church than among friendships that are maintained in the wider secular world. These investigators found little difference in emotional closeness between friendships in these two social settings.

Although this is an important issue to examine, this study was not deed to see if having a close friend in church is associated with better health. Even so, further work in this area is justified because researchers have been studying the influence of close confidants in secular settings for some time. For example, Lowenthal and Clayton report that having a close confidant is associated with greater psychological well-being among community-dwelling older adults.

More recently, Hays et al. The goal of the current study is to introduce a new measure of church-based companion friendships and empirically evaluate a conceptual model that proposes one way in which this type of social relationship may affect health.

This is accomplished in the four sections that follow. The key characteristics of close companion friends are identified in the first section. In the process, an effort is made to show why companion friendships that arise in church may be especially efficacious. Then, in section two, a latent variable model is introduced which specifies one way in which close friends at church may influence physical health.

Feelings of belonging in a congregation and gratitude toward God figure prominently in this conceptual scheme. Following this, the study sample and measures are presented in section three. Then the are reviewed and discussed in the fourth section. Unfortunately, a well-developed discussion of close companion friends at church is not available in the literature.

Consequently, the discussion provided below begins by focusing on research that comes from a of secular sources.

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Then, once the basic characteristics of secular companion friendships have been identified, an effort will be made to show the relatively unique ways in which these relationships may be manifest in church. Regrettably, the literature on companion friends is in a state of disarray Adams, Blieszner and De Vries It is not possible to resolve these longstanding problems in the current study.

Instead, we make an effort to contribute to the ongoing Friend companion more of research in this field by focusing on several core characteristics of companion friends that cut across the discussions that have appeared so far Ueno and Adamsand that make the most sense from a theoretical point of view.

Four interrelated functions of companion friends are examined briefly below. First, companion friends are characterized by a high degree of self-disclosure Patterson, Bettini and Nussbaum This means, for example, that close companion friends tell each other things they would not usually share with other people Rook Clearly, this kind of intimate self-disclosure cannot take place without a high degree of openness, honesty, truthfulness, and trust. Second, as Cocking and Kennett argue, companion friends share things they value highly.

For example, they share plans, hopes, dreams, ambitions, and interests. And as the degree of intimacy grows between companion friends, they share private jokes and private stories that arise from their mutual experiences Rook But there is some disagreement in the literature about the nature of the values and interests that are shared by companion friends.

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Some investigators, like Rookmaintain that companion friends share common interests. However, other researchers, such as Cocking and Kennettconvincingly argue that the interests that are shared by companion friends do not necessarily have to be the same. Instead, what matters most is that each person expresses interest in whatever their friend values highly. Third, companion friends strive to emulate what they admire in their counterpart.

The final characteristic of companion friends is related to the one. It has to do with the way in which self-development and personal growth arises from emulating a close companion friend. Instead of merely being an aloof role model, companion friends actively encourage and spur the other on to greater self-awareness and greater personal growth. Simply put, companion friends invest time and effort to help each other attain that which they value in each other.

There is reason to believe that close companion friendships that arise in religious settings may be more efficacious than companion friendships that are found in the wider secular world. Recall that close companion friendships are characterized by a high degree of openness, honesty, and trust. Unfortunately, researchers have known for some time that people are often defensive; they deliberately withhold information from each other; and they may even manipulate situations in an effort to create a more favorable impression of themselves Goffman However, the social milieu of the church is built upon fundamental religious teachings that may help overcome this type of defensive behavior.

Support for this assertion may be found in the work of Thomas Odena noted theologian. Writing over a century ago, Ross illuminated how the shared values and experiences that arise in religious settings foster friendships that are especially close. Mendes de Leon recently observed that the mechanisms that link secular friendships with health are poorly understood. The same is certainly true with respect to church-based companion friends. The model that is provided in Figure 1 was developed to address this gap in the knowledge base.

It should be emphasized that the relationships among the constructs depicted in Figure 1 were estimated after the effects of age, sex, education, and marital status were controlled statistically. Moreover, in order to make the model easier to read, the elements of the measurement model i. The core theoretical thrust in the model depicted in Figure 1 is captured in the following linkages: 1 people who go to church more often are more likely to have a companion friend in their congregation than individuals who do not go to church as often; 2 people who have a close companion friend in the place where they worship are more likely to feel Friend companion more belong in Friend companion more congregation; 3 individuals who feel they belong in their congregation are more likely to feel grateful to God; and 4 people who feel grateful to God are more likely to have better health.

The theoretical rationale that supports these relationships is discussed below. As the discussion provided above reveals, companion friendships are characterized by a high degree of closeness, openness, and trust. However, this type of relationship does not develop quickly. Instead, companion friendships are cultivated slowly over the course of frequent social contact. But merely coming into contact with others may not be sufficient.

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Instead, a natural and conducive social environment is required. Engaging in shared activities, such as participating in worship services and the social activities that surround them e. Simply put, before close relationships can arise, people must have a high degree of contact with others in a natural setting that fosters the development of close ties in an unobtrusive manner. The frequency of church attendance serves as a useful marker of the type of setting in which the necessary social contact may take place. One important benefit of having a close companion friend at church arises from the fact that this type of relationship makes a person feel that he or she belongs in a congregation.

Support for this notion may be Friend companion more in a study by Winseman His research reveals that 84 percent of study participants who report having a close friend in church also feel they belong in their congregation. The construct of belonging has a long history in the social and behavioral sciences, but not enough has been said about it within the context of religion. Over half a century ago, Maslow identified belonging as one of the most basic human needs.

Given the central role of belonging in life, it is not surprising to find that some investigators argue that one of the most important functions of religion is to help people find a sense of belonging Baumeister In order to see how close companion friends may promote a sense of belonging in a congregation, it is important to explore the essential nature and meaning of this key construct.

As Carrier points out, belonging involves much more than a stated religious preference e.

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Friend companion more, it is an attitude, a psychological reality that encompasses a set of positive emotions and cognitions that arise from playing a meaningful role in a group. Carrier's choice of words is important. By pointing out that people understand, inspire, and welcome each other, Carrier is, in essence, touching on some of the key characteristics of companion friends. The insights provided by Carrier provide a useful point of departure for seeing how a close companion friend helps foster a sense of belonging in a congregation. But given the underdeveloped state of this literature, it is necessary to more clearly specify how companion friends perform this important function.

Two factors figure prominently in this respect. The first involves understanding the social milieu of the church. Before people can feel that they belong in a congregation, they must be able to accurately grasp this milieu and see their place in it. However, the social milieu of a congregation consists of a complex web of social relationships that requires a certain amount of skill to identify, evaluate, and understand.

Having a close companion friend at church provides a safe haven in which the complex social milieu of a congregation can be candidly assessed without undue fear of censure. When they are viewed in this way, church-based companion friends act as a portal or gateway to the wider congregational milieu.

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