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The Leveson Centre for the study of Ageing, Spirituality and Social Policy

A Mission-shaped Church for Older People?

A Mission-shaped Church for Older People?

Editors Michael Collyer, Claire Dalpra, Alison Johnson & James Woodward. £10 (Published by The Church Army & The Leveson Centre). order now

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Review by Graham Hawley

An all age church? Why the question mark? We have ‘All age worship’ in our churches and seek to care for older people. Doesn’t this indicate an All Age Church?

My experience leads me to say no! Leading workshops for 60 – 90 year olds has revealed a very different picture. They speak of not having their contribution to the ministry and mission of the church acknowledged and a lack of awareness that they have continuing questions about faith and practice. In their experience, the churches largely ignore the issue of death and preparation for it. In addition to this there is no evidence of the churches having a policy that acknowledges the contribution of older people to ministry and their particular needs. Older people are too often seen as mainly recipients of care and not, as one member of a workshop put it, ‘still pilgrims on a journey’.

CCOA clearly acknowledges the issue in our aims and emphasises the importance of the contribution of older people to mission and ministry in the church and the need to develop it. But all this requires churches to have a strategy to embody this. Help has now been provided in a resource manual ‘A Mission-shaped Church for Older People?: practical suggestions for Local Churches’. Its contents embody the claims of the title with a twofold focus on ‘Raising Awareness’ and ‘Practical Application’.

‘Raising Awareness’ is a modular training course that deals with ‘Ageism and attitudes towards older people’, ‘Engaging with older people’ and ‘Practical evangelism in partnership with other agencies’. Each module contains a number of very practical exercises. The authors maintain that ‘Each stand-alone module is intended to span four or five weeks for church groups.’  They further state that churches should ‘Select the module appropriate to your local training needs’ There is thus an inbuilt flexibility in the material and a commendable acknowledgement of the need to adapt it.

The section on ‘Practical Application’ lives up to its title covering the following topics: -

  • A welcome pack for newcomers
  • A special service for and about older people or celebrating age.
  • Taking services in care homes
  • Running a Holiday at Home event
  • Visiting and befriending
  • Living with loss and change
  • Ministry to people living with dementia
  • Inherited and fresh expressions of church for older people
  • Developing a church policy on ageing.

There is a helpfully extensive bibliography and some useful websites are listed. The majority of the contributors and editors are Church army staff and speak out of a well-grounded practical experience of ministry with older people. In his foreword The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu says:-

“What shines through this book is the first-hand experience of those who have written it. I am grateful to them for sharing this experience more widely”.

I agree with these comments and commend it to CCOA members as a practical tool for our work of ministering to and working with older people. It can help to make our churches ‘All age Churches’.

Graham Hawley

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