Richard Wilson
Being a voice for older people

One year into the COVID pandemic I quite often find myself looking in two directions: both looking back at the dramatic events and changes that have occurred over the past year, and looking forward to how things might be when we ‘come out of lockdown’ – as we describe it now. Of course, whether individually or more strategically as part of the churches or charities of which we are part, we assess things all the time, but the dramatic events of the last year have perhaps brought our thinking into sharper focus. Maybe more than normal, as Christians we have been asking, what has God been saying? And as we go forward, what does he want us to do now?

This looking both back and forward struck me again recently when I spoke with Carl Knightly about the work of Faith in Later Life, a charity which, “exists to inspire and equip Christians to reach, serve and empower older people in every community, through the local church.”

Daily Hope through COVID
Looking back 12 months, churches and charities had to adapt quickly to lockdown. With a focus primarily on serving people in different contexts, they had to change the ways they delivered their meetings or services. As we all became more isolated – often quite physically distant from one another – there were new challenges and different needs.

Relating to one another in a disembodied state on screen was not ideal, but when lockdown was forced upon us, many of us increased our internet use instantly. We discovered the benefits of seeing people on Zoom and other media platforms. We were grateful for the technology, but probably most of us would have been unaware that, according to the Office of National Statistics in 2019, around 2.5 million people over 75 did not have the internet access on which we were increasingly relying. Responding quickly to this situation, in April last year Faith in Later Life was able to partner with the Church of England and the ‘Connections’ team at Holy Trinity Claygate to launch a free phone line called ‘Daily Hope’.

For nearly a year now ‘Daily Hope’ has been offering music, prayers and reflections as well as full worship services from the Church of England, all at the end of a telephone line. Participants can dial in for free any time of the day and night to hear the content, which also includes other options such as chair exercises and help with sleep. To date over 420,000 calls have been received, providing a lifeline to many who have been largely housebound, and particularly deprived of the fellowship of Sunday worship services. The results from this partnership are a cause for celebration.

Church Champions
Faith in Later Life’s website contains a wealth of information, resources, contacts, ideas and stories for ministering to and with those in later life. It also includes some of the crucial lessons learnt through the COVID crisis. Amongst other things, this has been an eye-opening time for many to the plight of thousands of older people who normally live alone and struggle with social isolation; it has raised awareness of the crisis in many care homes and focussed on the difficulties and dilemmas facing the families of those living with dementia.

As we move forward to address some of these challenges, Carl is particularly keen to promote the charity’s growing community of ‘Church Champions’. These Champions are believers of any age who have a heart for older people both within their church and in the community. They join a free national network, through which Faith in Later Life encourages and equips them to empower older Christians and reach and engage with senior citizens in the wider community. Carl’s hope is that the existing network of 350 churches will increase to 1,500.

Working with Keswick
This May, Faith in Later Life is partnering with Keswick Ministries in an online conference. The goal is to inspire, equip and empower those in the second half of life to live for Christ. The invitation is broad. As the publicity puts it, “Whether you are firmly in later life, have retired recently, are reflecting on what life looks like now your children have left home, or are involved in leading ministry with older people, this stream of seminars aims to provide teaching and insight into a variety of aspects of later life. You may be someone who wants some practical ideas about how to engage older people in your local community, or how to care for an elderly family member or friend, or someone with dementia. Or you may be reflecting on how to best prepare for later life and wonder what the Bible has to say about older age.

The event will run over three mornings on 11-13 May, and the cost is £10 per day or £25 for all three sessions.

At the heart of the vision and all the work of Faith in Later Life, is the local church. Local church communities can enable many older people – who may be not as young or able as they were – to continue to contribute and use the gifts God has given them. Others will need different care and face other challenges of old age. But church family, working at its best, will see older Christians empowered, and older people in the wider community reached, included and engaged with the love of Jesus.