Ministering to older people
With a little imagination, an ageing population provides rich and rewarding opportunities to serve, writes Patrick Coghlan
The experts tell us that we are an ageing population
; but at what age do we become an ‘older person’?
Is it associated purely with age, or maybe with retirement? Perhaps it is at that point when the effects of ageism in the work place creep in.
Maybe it is when we begin to slow down; everything seems to take a little bit more effort; and we wonder how we managed to do all that we used to do in our youth. Certainly, the term ‘older person’ would appear to involve quite a wide age range: containing those who are still fit and active, through to those whose health is very poor and needing high levels of care.
Hence, the types of ministry that we offer to those whom we call ‘older people’ needs to be quite varied and imaginative.
It is not just ministry during the Sunday services, or even provision for older people attending mid-week house groups; it’s about catering for people in different forms of residential care, those who are isolated and housebound, the sick, those with failing health, older people with different forms of dementia… and also welcoming the wisdom, knowledge, abilities and areas of ministry that many older people have to offer.
A ministry resource for older people
As a Baptist minister working mainly in small village churches with congregations formed predominantly of older people; and as chaplain of a local Christian community care charity (Aylsham and District Care Trust – ACT) working mainly with older people, God has given me a real concern for the wellbeing of those in the autumn of life.
So when it was suggested to me that I should write a comprehensive resource for ministry to older people, I jumped at the opportunity.
It has been some time being written, re-written and refined. It was a struggle to decide how best to produce it; in order that it be user friendly and affordable. Eventually, it was decided that the first two of the six parts be produced in a paperback edition; and the remainder be a downloadable resource. Never Too Old is the result.
A fellowship can be growing and flourishing as a result of older people coming in through the door; coming to faith; reaching out into residential homes, sheltered housing schemes and housing with care
My intention was to write a selection of resources that were easy to use, accessible, imaginative, wide ranging, spiritual, emotional, but at the same time often quite practical. At times, I maybe state the obvious… but for some, it might not be so obvious!
The resources range from those that help to develop a wider understanding of the needs of older people and experience what they have to offer. There are suggestions of ways to build up the kind of community that will care for older people in spiritual, emotional and practical ways – including ideas for outreach and those around presenting working parties in imaginative and acceptable ways to independent older people.
The resources look at things like visiting, listening, offering prayer, funeral services, support groups, lunch clubs and ideas to encourage interaction between older and young people.
There are a selection of inspirational Bible stories (and teaching) that may be shared with older people going through different practical, emotional and pastoral needs. And, of course, there are resources for different types of services involving older people, always with an evangelistic and evangelical approach.
The importance of food
One valuable lesson that I have learned as a minister is that food plays a major part in effective outreach: together with commitment and a bit of imagination.
One of my suggested ways of reaching out to frail older people and also engaging young mobile people with cars – and putting the two together in a useful way - is to hold regular prayer breakfasts, followed by pairing up those who are able bodied with transport, with those who are not, in order to take the latter out for a weekly shop.
The breakfast should be a social event with something appetising to eat, and the prayer time should have a relevant theme, but the session led in such a way that no-one feels pressured or embarrassed. There are real social and emotional benefits in giving an older, frail person a breakfast and taking them shopping – if they are able with help – rather than just getting the shopping in for them.
Lunch clubs are always invaluable: to provide a good nutritious meal to those who might not have it otherwise, to enable people to build up friendships, a time of becoming aware of other needs the guest might be struggling with, and an opportunity to witness and give an evangelistic epilogue.
Both of these have social and emotional benefits; they are good opportunities to unite helpers with those in need; but also they have outreach potential to introduce people to Christian things in a non-threatening environment.
Church growth in a fellowship doesn’t necessarily have to consist of young people (though ministry to young people is very important). A fellowship can be growing and flourishing as a result of older people coming in through the door; coming to faith; reaching out into residential homes, sheltered housing schemes and housing with care; and making use of years of life experience and well developed gifts and abilities. Now there’s a thought!
Whatever the balance of different age groups is in your Church fellowship Never Too Old is a tool to help you to be inclusive of older people: with the power of the Triune God empowering and guiding.
Never Too Old comprises of six parts:
• Part 1: ‘Caring Church’: A seven session group Bible study (included in the printed volume)
• Part 2: Dealing with physical, practical, care and emotional issues (included in the printed volume)
• Part 3: Pastoral care and visiting (downloadable resource)
• Part 4: Sunday services and mid-week café style worship (downloadable resource)
• Part 5: Providing ministry in residential homes, sheltered housing and day centres (downloadable resource)
• Part 6: A collection of inspirational Bible stories to bring hope in the difficult situations that older people might be facing (downloadable resource)
Patrick Coghlan is minister of Worstead Baptist Church, in the heart of the North Norfolk countryside; he is a trustee of and chaplain for Aylsham and district Care Trust; and he is manager of ‘4C’s Aylsham’ Christian Counselling Centre (housed in the ACT building). He is married to June; and has two grown up children – Jonathan and Rachel.
Patrick has written a number of Christian resource books and family novels.