Richard Dean, CT President for 2006/7, welcomed all to the Annual Assembly at Trinity Methodist church hall on Wednesday 15 November.
The opening worship was led by the new trio Phoenix, from St Aidan's school; our thanks to George (keyboard), Emily (Soprano) Sophie (second soprano) & Vicky (alto). Lists of local residential homes were completed with existing Church links [this resource was deleted by CT Harrogate in the autumn of 2009].
What does that term Third Age mean to us? When does it begin – and when does it end? Some suggest that the elderly in our minds tonight are living in the fourth or fifth age. Some have heard of the University of the Third Age. Let us begin at the listing of the Homes and the people living there [completed during the evening, along with existing links to the faith community]. Here in November 0006, the average age in Berwick Grange is near a 90, where our oldest resident is 110½. The Third Age is a bit elastic. Whatever age we are, we're all aging, whether in our churches, families or in the residential care homes. Tonight we are looking at the issues of aging.
The academic, Kenneth Howse says: “We think of human powers and capabilities as following a parabolic trajectory through the life force”. We don't often think of life as a ‘parabolic trajectory' – going up and coming down , but we know that there are things we cannot do today which we could try to do years ago. We don't expect to play football for England when we're older. Kenneth Howse goes on “but the dimension of life that stands apart from this age is the spiritual dimension”. And that is of fundamental importance as we think about our own aging, our ministry and our relationships with those who are older.
Thinking about each other and ourselves as spiritual beings, in the Third Age we did not decline but can, with help and support, be a time of growth. The word spirituality is capable of 101 definitions. Here is one definition: “Spirituality is not just one compartment of life but the deepest dimension of all. It's not the box marked God, the box marked religion – it's much deeper than that. This spiritual dimension is the basis for our hopes and desires, our struggles with loss, questions of purpose, those questions of self worth. And the discovery and need to find deeper peace”.
Aging is a spiritual issue - just as fat is a feminist issue! If we are thinking about spirituality in those terms, then we're looking at a particular point of contact between the community of faith and older people.
Why is aging a spiritual issue?
Aging can alter a spiritual perspective. If spirituality is about life, then aging is a spiritual issue. As we age some things will change in our perspective. Some things come into sharper focus - it matters more to us what we believe about eternal life. It may matter far less to us about the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Some things age neutral , but some things will change and therefore aging has to be seen as a spiritual issue.
Ageing is to be seen as a negative thing . If we think about the association of our spirituality and well being then if aging is brings some things into question then the negative side has to be brought into account. Paul Tourniersaid this: “How can the person who has seen a meaning in life also see a meaning in old age which seems to be a diminution , an amputation and a stifling of life?”Strong words; whilst we may not feel stifled, we can imagine a time when this may happen. When thinking about the place and community of faith in aging, we have to be very careful how we express what we say about our understanding about what it is to be human. Generally, I wonder what place in our own week by week Christian nurturing do we allow doctrine and teaching about older people. So it is a spiritual issue.
Aging offers an opportunity for harvesting. One thing you'll find in any text about spirituality and aging is this image of harvest. It's particularly apposite at this time of year – in the autumn , leaves are falling, with dark nights and everything shutting down and dropping off, the year's end. But a few weeks ago we celebrated our harvest festivals which were a celebration of the whole point of the year. Generally the images of autumn and harvest are appropriate ones when thinking about aging. There is the opportunity for harvesting.
Memory and Amnesia
There is a need to look at the issues around the word ‘memory'. Consider how memory and the word ‘remember' come up in the Bible: “Do this in remembrance of me” and “Remember the Lord your God”. The basic Old and New Testament commands are very hard if you cannot remember who you are. The place of memory is very important. Some suggest that “We are a church living with amnesia. We know what we are doing but we have forgotten why we are doing it.”
Aging is a spiritual issue because traditional ways of meeting spiritual needs may not be possible any longer. As we get older we may not be able to physically do what we used to – including going to church.
Albert Jewell, Old people in the church. In his book there it is a story of an old Catherine make lady who says she used to go to mass every morning on my way to town but now, 'ever since the doctor put me on those water tablets I don't go because just at the time it is less I need to go! Just imagine every time I go to the door everybody knows where I'm going ….' Aging sometimes cuts you off from the things that were very important to you. A lot of people especially older people feel a sense of guilt at not going to church and that is exasperated by aging.
It is vital that the community of faith deals with these issues.
How then do we find ways of meeting spiritual needs?
Harvest: Jenny Goodman offers us this challenge not just to the church but to everybody: “The perspective of our later years should be changed from expecting us to wind down and disintegrate but see it as a place of the joyful conscious ripening with a revitalizing sense of purpose and self worth, the place from which to harvest the fruits of a lifetime.” If we're thinking about nurturing the Third Age we're actually challenging ourselves to create a sea change in attitude. We may consider the Third Age as “that which I'm not.” When we consider the difference between reactions in society today to ageism and issues around racism , sexism and homophobia - which people are against – ageism doesn't energise people as much. It is fundamentally different. The first three are based on a fear about being the other- Keith suggested that he will never be a black woman, but he will grow old. Issues around being a black women are other to me. Ageism is based on the fear of what I will become. And that is a fundamental difference. How do we create a sea change for the Third Age?
Some have been to these places as a volunteer or visitor. Our older people out first and foremost people they do not exist as a breed apart. Spiritual goals are no different. Five particular areas which become less possible; these five goals are hugely important to people as spiritual beings.
This is not unique to older people but it does take on a particular significance . When ministering to and amongst older people these five things take on a particular significance . Some can make a connection between these skills and the fruits of the spirit.
Life in a residential home and your role as a visitor. What can we bring to help nurture the third age?
Worship in a residential homes
The churches contribution to nurturing the Third Age
As the man with dementia wrote, “Sometimes I picture myself as a candle. I used to be a candle 8ft tall burning bright; each day I lose a little bit of me. Someday I will be very small but the candle and its flame will be just as bright.”
The responses of those at the Annual Assembly included:
Our thanks to John Sadler and the stewards for the use of Trinity church hall, Stephanie Noble, chapel keeper, musicians and the refreshments team, to CT Leeds Road and Pannal & Beckwithshaw for use of their powered speaker, Rock ConneXion for use of a projector, and, not least, to Keith Albans, Les Sudron & Angela Robinson for their contributions and leadership.