Being older is first and foremost: being an older woman or man. We are people with hopes and fears, loves and hates, friends and enemies, things to do and things to avoid, times of sickness and times of health: we are human. Being human brings with it the ability to give as much or as little to the world around us as we wish, and the need from time to time to seek and to receive help and support from others around us. In this part of our website you will find reflections on some of the facts of being older and on some of the demands being older can make on ourselves and on others.
The faith of older Christians
Christians on Ageing’s Membership Survey 2012 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 belief and 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 challenges and opportunities for the pastoral work of the Churches, leading to, for example:
- establishing social clubs within the local church
- visiting schemes for those who are housebound or in hospital and residential care
- building awareness of the particular needs of those living with dementia (read more on Dementia Care) and
- the pastoral care of those who are dying (read more on Dying and Death) and bereaved. Read more about Bereavement.
Older people and the Church
The office-holders in many Churches – wardens, stewards, elders, church secretaries – are often drawn from the ranks of the (fairly) recently retired, and it could be asked how many local churches would 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.
These ideas are further developed through this website and in our magazine and other publications.