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PRISONS WEEK    14 – 20 OCTOBER 2018

The annual focus on prisons, prisoners and their families, prison staff and support services takes place this year between 14 and 20 October.  Christians on Ageing is seeking ways of supporting the Churches in their work with chaplancies and other resources.

More information can be found on the Prisons Week website.



National attitudes to death

Earlier this year we issued a Press Release (see below) about an initiative by Co-op Funeralcare: the provision of low-cost funerals which involve no mourners and no ceremony.  The Co-op announced that it would be conducting a nationwide survey of British attitudes towards death.  The results of the survey have been published and can be read here.  The Co-op says that over 30,000 responses were received although this figure is amended in the formal reference to the size of the sample (22664 adults 16+).  The survey (which was conducted on-line) covered basic attitudes towards the death of others as well as the ways people thought about their own mortality.  The main finding is that the majority of people find the whole subject of death very difficult and find themselves inadequate in the face of bereavement.  Additionally, the lack of preparation for death is startling, including the making of a will (only 27% it is suggested).  The word ‘taboo’ is used in the findings as a general description of the British attitude towards death.  No one really likes talking about it and will go to great lengths to avoid having to deal with any aspect of it.  The questions asked are not listed and, therefore, it is not possible to compare the enquiries with the answers.

One of the significant features of the survey results is the almost complete absence of any mention of religious faith or affiliation.  There is a single reference, in a section about making funeral plans, to the influence religion might have had in prompting making a plan (9% said it did).  Other than that, nothing.  It is understandable that a commercial organisation with a very big interest in funerals should concentrate its effort on those matters which affect its own business planning but to ignore the place that religious faith might have in people’s thinking and practice does raise a number of questions.  Did the survey deliberately exclude any enquiry about the effect of faith on attitudes to death and bereavement, or was it just not remembered?  If it was deliberate, why?  If it was just forgotten, is this a reflection of the entirely secular purpose and approach of the survey or symptomatic of a wider ignorance of the role of faith in people’s lives?

In the Press Release issued at the time of the announcement of this survey, Christians on Ageing suggested that it was time for the Churches (as well as other faith communities)  to confront the avoidance of death in our culture and bring discussion about dying and bereavement back into the land of the living.  The results of this survey make that task more urgent.  One of the main responses recorded in the survey was that people ‘didn’t know what to say or do’ when dealing with death and the care of those left grieving.  The Church of Jesus Christ has got the words and knows what to do.

Christians on Ageing will continue to explore this issue.  Our booklet on ‘Dying and Death’: what have Christians to say to secular society?’ is still available from our Bookstore.


Elizabeth Harbottle, President of Christians on Ageing

 Elizabeth, our President, died on 5 May 2018.  She was a graduate of Durham University and her early career was as a teacher. She returned to Durham University to study for an MA in Counselling Training. In the 1980s she worked in Sunderland with ‘Action in Retirement’, developing self-help groups, retirement courses and the Grief and Loss Counselling service. For a number of years she was the Chairperson of the North East Association for Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy.

She was also a member of the Bishop’s Council and Board for Mission and Social Responsibility for the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle and was involved in setting up a project within the Diocese arising from the ‘Faith in the City’ and ‘Faith in the Countryside’ studies.  She served as a member of the General Synod’s  Board of Social Responsibility which produced the report Ageing in 1990.

Elizabeth’s association with Christians on Ageing (then known by its formal title of Christian Council on Ageing) goes back to the beginning in 1982 and she joined the organisation on 21st October 1984 when it was registered as a charity.  She was Chairperson in 1988 and 1989 and again from 1991 to 1995. She was elected a Vice- President in 2006 and President in 2016. As the Chairperson of Christians on Ageing was very much involved in the pioneering Newcastle Project of the Dementia Working Group which produced a substantial report and the video Is there anyone there? in 1998.

In 1999 Elizabeth wrote Learning through losses: aspects of loss and growth throughout life, parts 1 and 2 for publication by Christians on Ageing.  She was also much involved on behalf of Christians on Ageing in organising the multi-agency conference on Ageing, held in Durham in 2002.

In recent years health problems had meant that Elizabeth was rarely able to attend Executive Committee meetings but made every effort to attend the AGM.  She was present at the AGM in Sheffield on 25th April this year, 10 days before she died. Her experience informed our discussions and her enthusiasm for the work of the organisation was undiminished.  With Elizabeth’s passing Christians on Ageing has lost a wise counsellor and a dedicated member.




Co-operative FuneralCare has recently publicised the growing popularity of no-frills cremations: no ceremony, no mourners, low cost.  It cites the growing popularity of events celebrating the life of a dead person being held at a time and place unconnected with the funeral.  It suggests that this will provide an alternative to traditional religious and secular funeral ceremonies.  It also refers to the significant saving in costs compared to standard funerals.  It is launching a wide-ranging national study into how death is dealt with in modern Britain.

CHRISTIANS ON AGEING thinks that people are entitled to decide whatever type of funeral they wish for themselves, a family member or a friend.  It would, however – and certainly for a Christian – be a radical departure from two thousand years and more of tradition if the practice of gathering to honour and remember the dead and to commend them to God’s mercy were to be abandoned on the grounds, for example, of cost or the convenience of mourners.

The Christian Churches offer a very wide range of ways in which funerals can be conducted; the payment to the church or the minister is very small compared to other charges and, often, can be waived.  Many ministers go to great lengths to encourage bereaved family and friends to seek modesty of expenditure at a time when they can be vulnerable to the hidden pressure of equating spending more with loving more.

Much has been written in the last decade or two about the change in attitudes towards dying and death in our society.  It has been noted that there seems to be an underlying reluctance to accept the inevitability of death in older age and, when death occurs, to make its presence as invisible as possible.

This, now, seems to have reached the moments of farewell.  As well as expressing no wish to view the dead body, even dressed-up in a coffin, some people are willing to leave the ‘last offices’ – simply, the preparation of the body and its dispatch to the furnace – to paid professionals, with no family or friend involved.  At least this is what the Co-op is telling us.

The experience of the Churches is that ceremonies surrounding death and burial/cremation can and do bring great comfort.  They bridge the gap between loss and acceptance of the finality of absence.  For Christian believers, they offer a rare moment of intimate contact with the divine through a recognition of our own mortality.

Christians on Ageing thinks that the Churches should contribute to the Co-op study and be bold enough to make more of death and restore it to its place in the land of the living.


Dementia: The forgotten heroes. 

Churchgoing carers speak of their long and lonely road

In a new and pioneering study, those caring for loved ones with dementia emerge as the forgotten heroes amongst carers. 53 churchgoers who have (or have recently had) this caring role speak out passionately for the first time about their experience.

You can read a more detailed article about the research here 





Have you heard of Fresh Expressions? Fresh Expressions works with Christians from a broad range of denominations and traditions and seeks to transform communities and individuals through championing, resourcing and multiplying new ways of being church. There are some great examples of creating fresh expressions amongst older people, particularly, but not exclusively, those who live in sheltered housing accommodation here . You will also find some really helpful practical resources listed on this area of the Fresh Expressions website. Fresh Expressions for older people is called “Neither Young Nor Old” (NYNO).  The title was inspired by Galatians 3.28, ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for all are one in Christ Jesus’. In Christ Jesus there is also neither young nor old.



Dementia Without Walls

A continuing project to assist those working with people suffering from dementia.  The original project was supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation which continues to support this work.

Go to for more information including videos, news and links to interesting practice.

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