In the pandemic they asked me to stay at home. I complied. Shielding protected me from catching Covid19, the vaccinations made me more resilient to infection.
However, with no visitors, little exercise and no church, there was no antidote for the loneliness and isolation. My muscles grew weaker, and my spirit waned. I felt unseen and forgotten.
Now the shielding has lifted, I am tired and afraid. It’s a real effort to go out, its easier to stay at home. There are so many unfamiliar faces now at Church, it no longer feels like mine. I am scared that I will walk into Church and be unseen, that no one will speak to me, that I will just listen to the readings, listen to the homily, receive the Eucharist and go home. I used to get so much from the camaraderie, that feeling of being useful, of belonging and engagement. I feel like no one wants me there now. No one will notice if I don’t make the effort. I can just pray at home. God will understand.
This is a dismal story, but one that resonates with the voices we hear. However it doesn’t have to be this way.
On 20th April, over 90 people from across the Diocese of Westminster attended an inspirational conference for groups that are celebrating and engaging the older people in their parish. The conference held at Westminster Cathedral Hall was a collaboration between Caritas Westminster, the Agency for Evangelisation, the Irish Chaplaincy, St Vincent de Paul Society and Anna Chaplaincy. There were inspirational talks and plenty of time for networking, sharing and visiting stands. You can read more about the conference here
Some feedback from participants were:
‘I am happy to learn there are so many organisations to assist and advise those who feel lonely and who desperately need support. Reminding us of how the Holy Spirit works in our lives.’
‘Very good day, made me think about ageing as a positive experience (rather than a sad or solitary one) ‘Sow seeds! They will bring fruits!’
‘A fantastic day to learn from experts’ knowledge and experience of providing pastoral care to our older brothers and sisters.’
‘I appreciated the spiritual input, it was good to calm the noise of our everyday lives, to be open to the teachings of the day.’
Debbie Thrower, the keynote speaker, reflecting on her work as the founder of the Anna Chaplaincy, talked about offering spiritual care in later life, ‘Cultivating Hope in later Life’. She spoke about today’s older people being ‘pioneers’ of a new age, when ‘in the UK there are now more people aged 60 and above than there are under 18 – for the first time ever (ONS)’ and the number of people over 85 is set to double by 2043.
Debbie commented, ‘As the younger generation become the focus of the church’s energy, older members can sometimes struggle to know their place.’
Debbie suggests that above all older people need, ‘recognition, a sense of self-worth, mutually supportive relationships and opportunities to contribute.’ She observed that, ‘in many churches those over 60 are the bedrock of the church’s life, active in volunteering and lay leadership. As the generations grow older so needs change and differ.’ She suggests that the Church is an ideal place for older people to receive the help they need to ‘navigate the choppy waters of old age’.
Every parish should consider how they can offer time and space to the older people in their community. How welcoming is the parish? How accessible is it to people with disabilities or those who are hard of hearing? Does the parish offer an opportunity to gather together as community, such as teas and coffees after Mass? More intentional support is also required, with full safeguarding considerations.
As Caritas Westminster, we recommend that parishioners who want to help, join those groups that can support and nurture older people in the parish. Debbie promotes the popular and rapidly expanding Anna Chaplains and their spiritual care series. Older people can also be celebrated and supported through the parish SVP conference, the Irish Chaplaincy, Companions of the Order of Malta, Aspiring Life and more. Through these the Church can offer practical response, such as ‘one-to-one active listening, signposting resources, intergenerational work, library clubs: poetry/books, drop-in coffee mornings, memory cafes, and worship – that’s inclusive.’
What happens next?
In the most part, those who attended the conference plan to take the learning back to their parish to either inform their current volunteering, or to help shape new activities or projects. Several plan to connect with some of the organisations represented; particularly SVP, Anna Chaplaincy & Caritas Deaf Service. Others were keen to know more about their Safeguarding responsibilities.
There was an overwhelming desire for more opportunities to network and share ideas. In particular people asked for more conversation and guidance on dementia friendly parishes, about living and dying well and loneliness and isolation. Others wanted more practical information on safeguarding. They were keen for conversations to be inclusive and representative of the communities they served, with older people participating and greater diversity.
Over the coming weeks Caritas Westminster and the Irish Chaplaincy will prepare a series of opportunities for groups to gather, share and learn online, so that we can embrace, engage, love and adore our older people. We hope to meet again in person in Spring 2024. If you would like to join us online or in person, sign up to ‘Receive news from the Seniors Network’ here
Useful links to other agencies:
Diocese of Westminster Agency for Evangelisation: for information and support please see the website: rcdow.org.uk/evangelisation/
The Caritas Volunteer Service can support you to recruit the volunteers that are essential for any seniors project.On our website you can list any volunteering vacancies you have. The service is free to use and open to all and a good way to raise additional awareness of your work. Look at the ‘How-to’ video guide on the website here.
The Caritas Volunteer Service can also offer assistance on Safeguarding, Go to www.caritasvs.org.uk/parish-resources-658.php or email firstname.lastname@example.org
We love to hear from volunteers, too! Tell us about your fantastic volunteers, your own volunteering experience, any challenges and successes. Your experience can help and inspire others.
Health & Safety: contact email@example.com for any queries.
Caritas Deaf Service: for information and support, please visit the website here: www.caritaswestminster.org.uk/deaf-service.php
Anna Chaplaincy: For more information about becoming an Anna Chaplain or for the Spiritual Care Series: www.annachaplaincy.org.uk/
SVP: If you are interested to find out more about setting up a SVP conference in your parish, or finding out where the nearest SVP to you is, please contact Siobhan Doyle: firstname.lastname@example.org
Embracing Age is a Christian charity working towards a world where older people are valued, connected and full of hope. They can support your church in responding to the challenges and opportunities of an ageing population, including dementia, care homes and informal carers, please contact email@example.com or visit www.embracingage.org.uk/for-churches.
Other useful links: