INVOLVING older people in church activities should be a priority, a group of Christians who work with the elderly has said.
Inclusivity was the theme of a recent conference, “Being Old, Being Bold”, which was organised by Christians On Ageing and attended by more than 40 delegates from churches and organisations in Britain.
They heard a series of presentations on the position and perception of older people in the UK today; the potential and practice of dedicated ministry to older people; humane care for older prisoners; and current understandings of dementia, its impact on individuals, and families, and the potential of churches to help.
Several ideas to promote involvement were discussed. They included seeking ways of respecting and retaining older church members and traditional ways of doing things, while encouraging new arrivals and younger people to experiment with other ways of bringing people together, not just for worship but community support; improving churches’ understanding of the needs of people living with dementia, and their families and friends, especially in how worship could be designed to meet those needs; and also including older people as mentors and guides, especially through the involvement of grandparents if they live locally.
A specific plea was made to consider older Christians from black and minority-ethnic communities, especially those who had been forced from their homes by persecution, something that would require more meaningful contact with a variety of people and organisations.
The meeting also suggested that churches provide time for people to come together and talk about their journey of faith, including feelings and doubts, and to be together in conversation and conviviality.
A report summing up the discussions said that there was a need for churches to make good use of opportunity, and to recognise the value of social activities alongside pastoral care, even though activities such as lunch clubs and knitting-circles were seen as outmoded and difficult to organise because of limited resources, few volunteers, and increasing regulations.
It also suggested more engagement with older people who were cut off from the mainstream population, such as hospital patients, prisoners, and care-home residents, as well as overlooked communities such as the significant number of elderly people living on Britain’s waterways.
Churches could also build on the enthusiasm and energy of younger people, especially in congregations where they were in a majority, as in university cities.