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Being older: as a Christian

The faith of older Christians

Christians on Ageing’s recent survey of its own members suggests that their faith needs are just as great and varied as those of younger Christians. As the end of life comes closer, questions about their beliefs and their relationship with God become more urgent, and many find their need for support with prayer, spirituality and working out the Christian life is not met. Church leaders are not always sensitive to the spiritual traditions and patterns of worship which have fed older Christians over the years, and tend to judge changes in patterns of worship and Church life in terms of attractiveness to younger people, while older members of congregations are taken for granted.

At the same time, decline in older people’s social contacts within the Church, as their contemporaries die or can no longer attend church, can lead to a sense of loneliness and a lack of anyone to share their religious concerns with.

It must not be taken for granted that non-churched people are only to be found among the young: there are many older people who not only have no church links now, but have had little or no contact with the Church throughout most or all of their lives.

The needs of older Christians

Many older Christians, like other older people, lead active, fulfilled lives, but they become more at risk of physical, mental and social decline as they get older, and these create issues for the pastoral work of the churches: from social clubs within the local Church, to visiting schemes for those who are housebound or in hospital and residential care, to an awareness of the particular needs of those suffering from dementia, and the pastoral care of those who are dying and bereaved.

Older people and the Church

The office-holders in many Churches – wardens, stewards, elders, church secretaries etc – are often drawn from the ranks of the (fairly) recently retired, and it could be asked how many local churches could survive without these people. A less commonly noted factor is the high proportion of retired clergy: in some denominations this may be over 50% of all clergy, and these too are often found ‘filling in’ for full-time clergy.  Yet this dependence on older Church members is not always acknowledged, or is seen as a ‘failure’ of the Church to recruit younger members rather than as a gift to the Church of this relatively new ‘third age’ generation. When Churches talk about being inclusive for people of all ages, this is usually applied to drawing in younger people, and ‘all age worship’ is a euphemism for undemanding child-centred services to be enjoyed by adults.

Christians on Ageing is committed to the recognition of both the resource of older Christians for the Church, and a recognition of their needs.  These ideas are further developed through this website and in our magazine and other publications.

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