The Churches begin their thinking and action about caring for others in the words of Jesus: ‘Feed my lambs; feed my sheep’. This straight-forward invitation to continue his ministry is called pastoral care, and it is carried out in many different ways – nationally, locally, and in specialist ministries.
A local church or ministry offers support and help to a whole congregation or different groups with specific needs. Part of pastoral care is the regular meeting for prayer or social action; another part is the work of an individual minister or member of the congregation with individuals or groups; and part, again, is group or individual activity specific to particular sections of the congregation. Older people, for example, will often have a direct relationship, one to one, with the minister or a lay leader for regular home visits, or receiving holy communion from time to time, or similar. They may also be invited to take part in special worship sessions, or asked to be special guests at social events. It is commonly accepted that pastoral care is an essential feature of Church life. If the members of Christians on Ageing are telling the truth about their experience – it is also the most neglected.
One of the results of getting older is being forgotten. Church members who have provided years of loyal service and faithful attendance but who, for reasons of mobility or illness, find they cannot be physically present at meetings or gatherings of the congregation, find that they no longer seem to be in touch with anybody or anything. This does not happen all the time but with sufficient frequency, apparently, for many of our members to report it as their greatest disappointment.
This is not whingeing or moaning; it is real, and hurtful. Christians on Ageing is determined to make this neglect a priority for action. If the Churches cannot remember to include those who are older, effectively and without being patronising, they are failing – and need telling.
People’s encounters with the Church are often, now, in times of need rather than in places of worship. Sickness, dying and death are obvious occasions when the presence of someone representing the Church is sought and welcomed. Hospital chaplaincy and the work of the hospice movement are very much based on Christian models, even when under the umbrella of the statutory bodies – and it is the chaplains and voluntary workers who carry the message of the gospel in demanding situations.
Christians on Ageing will be seeking ways of supporting the work of the Churches in these specialist ministries.
A particular area of interest is the work of the Churches with older prisoners. The late Canon Michael Butler, former Editor of our magazine plus, was involved closely in a special project at Norwich Prison. We will be seeking ways of continuing his pioneering work as the number of older prisoners increases, including many who will end their days in prison and others who will be released late in life.