“I WANTED a book that took a fresh look at ministry amongst older people, that was theologically based but practical,” writes Tina English. She starts with simple but proper theology, looking at human nature in the light of the nature of God: “we are dependent; created in the image of God; loved and relational”; and she quotes the elderly John Stott’s wonderful saying that “We are all designed to be a burden to others.” Unlike some books on practical ministry, she does not then leave the theology behind, but lets it simmer.
English emphasises that not all older people are needy, and that retirement typically embraces an earlier active stage and a later period of greater frailty. That said, the book then largely focuses on the latter.
The author’s background is in nursing, and she has founded a charity engaged with care homes. There are helpful overviews of dementia, of the needs of carers (one in eight of all adults), and of involvement with care homes, followed by a review of various church projects for older people, and sound advice about the management of volunteers.
A Great Place to Grow Old is written in conversational style, and everybody seems to have “a heart for” something. English seems to write from a Charismatic Free Church background; the occasional use of scripture is uncritical; and the declaration that, “If you have submitted your life to Jesus, then you are a son or daughter of the King,” does rouse one’s inner F. D. Maurice.
This background may also account for areas that the book gives little attention to. There are stories of older people coming to faith, but little about faith development in older people. Worship in care homes is mentioned only briefly, as is preparation for the end of life.
But anyone involved in church work with older people will find good advice here, as well as some challenges. We are reminded that churches may be tempted to sideline care-home ministry if they are preoccupied with numerical growth, unwilling to look at our fears about ageing, or obsessed with youth.
The Revd Philip Welsh is a retired priest in the diocese of London.
A Great Place to Grow Old: Re-imagining ministry among older people
Church Times Bookshop £11.69