Caritas Westminster’s Assistant Director reports on our recent Seniors Network meeting, in the run up to the World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly on Sunday 23rd July
Images are from the Centre for Aging Better’s “Age Positive Library”
In our thought provoking Summer Seniors Network meeting, our key speaker Emily Kenward, from the charity Time to Talk Befriending, said that from their research, (they do a lot of listening) older people are still being impacted by the after effects of the pandemic, and this was affecting them more than the cost of living crisis. Older people they hear from most want to meet up with and talk to people of the same generation and with similar interests to their own. Emily stressed the importance and strength of friendship.
Time to Talk started when Emily noticed all of the closed curtains in the tenement blocks that she passed on her way to her small church, and the underrepresentation of older people in the local streets. They organised a church celebration to honour older people. They knocked on 1,000 local doors and 94 people turned up to the celebration!
Emily asked, ‘do you know the demographics of your area? Can you see older people around? Map out where they are living – go door to door!’
Participants at our Seniors Network event shared their experiences, and ideas about how to reach out to older people in their parish. There was a recognition that older people hadn’t returned to church due to increased frailty, anxiety or fear of catching Covid, or simply of getting out of the habit and a sentiment that ‘they haven’t been missed’. Some talked about events they had run, like a twice-yearly anointing of the sick, followed by tea and cakes, where the local SVP group drove around to collect infirm parishioners. Others talked about outreach to people in their homes or in hospital. People liked the idea of bringing a cross for people to hold, to help them pray, or a ‘church in a box’ to help people experience church where they are. This is especially important as they reach the end of life, during palliative care. Children from one school had sent cards and sung carols to older people in their care home.
Unusually at this meeting, we were joined by two people from Nigeria. They highlighted the difference experienced in Nigeria, where the sense of community and family is stronger. Older people stay with family and have young children playing at their feet. We have so much to learn from the Global South, and encourage Folashade and Esther to return to future meetings.
Church groups are in a wonderful position to reach out to older people who are housebound, hidden from sight, and without family and friends. The hospitality and community in the venue of the local parish, can nurture great friendships of mutual company and support. In this time of increased listening and synodality we can take Emily’s lead to give older people the time and space to talk, to involve them in discernment and action to involve older people in the future of the parish. World Day for Grandparents and Elderly is coming up on July 23rd, making this a great time to reach out to the older people are in your community and start listening!
At Caritas Westminster we always advise anyone wishing to start a new group to be conscious of safeguarding and boundary setting, to protect older people and volunteers. For professional training and support in this we recommend starting up an SVP group or becoming Anna Chaplains.
If you want to find out more, and join a future event, please sign up to receive news from our Senior Network here, run by Caritas Westminster and the Irish Chaplaincy, for all who support older people in their community in the Diocese of Westminster.
You may also be interested in this reflection for World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly by Roger Carr-Jones Marriage & Family Life Coordinator for the Diocese of Westminster.