Ann Morisy recently led a session on the Love is a Verb course about ageing which left me really challenged about church and our mission with older people.
The UK has an increasingly ageing population – we currently have more over 65’s than under 16’s. Some research shows that those who grow older with a faith have a better experience. So this is great for the church, isn’t it? We are being told we have a ‘product’ (excuse the crass advertising terms) which a growing number of people need! So what are we doing about it?
I’m currently working with a church who set up a luncheon club in the 1980’s. This quickly became a thriving ministry during a time when the term ‘pensioner’ was something of a badge of honour. Oh how things have changed! People are living longer and retiring later, they are more active and the term pensioner is now a somewhat derogatory term.
So society has moved on, but churches often haven’t. Many luncheon clubs like this one have seen numbers dwindle as regulars have died and interest has waned. The older age group is now spilt into two age brackets: the 65-75 year olds are often still working or volunteering in some capacity or may be caring for their grandchildren. The over 75’s, possibly less mobile, have a very different set of needs/wants. The church I’ve been working with mainly attracts the latter group providing a ‘meat and two veg’ lunch and an activity (the most popular being bingo). My own nan is in her early 70’s and her response is that she wouldn’t be seen dead in a luncheon club such as this!
Why is that, what are the needs/wants of those in this category and how can we creatively engage with both age groups in a meaningful way?
We work with many people who are running thriving ministries with older people.
A good example is that of another church I am working with who have a group called the N40’s (short for the New Forties). They reach those in early retirement attracting them by arranging social gatherings and visits to interesting heritage and tourist sites.
Work with older people is often unglamorous and can take a back seat in our church. It’s easy to see why it’s appropriate that we pour energy and resources into our work with children and youth but the Bible is clear about our responsibilities to honour the wisdom and contribution of older people.
Leviticus 19:32 says “ Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God.”
Psalm 92:13 and 14 says, “Those who are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bear fruit in old age; they shall be fresh and flourishing.”
The Church urgently needs to focus on finding ways of honouring and respecting, of drawing on the wisdom and experience and encouraging older people to feel they still have a part to play. We also need to communicate our conviction that however old we are it’s never too late to grow spiritually or to find new life.
What are the creative ways that you engage with older people in your churches/projects?