With the latest data showing that older people are projected to outnumber children within the next 20 years, churches may be wise to adjust their focus. At present, many Catholic parishes are wonderfully equipped at providing for families and children, but a shift in thinking regarding the needs of older members would be a smart move in terms of retaining members and potentially appealing to the wider community. Older people are not only at greater risk of isolation and depression, but they also have much to contribute to church life. Finding ways to involve, support and love them helps everyone in the church family.
Offering a helping hand
While a new trend is emerging in aging parents sharing homes with their children, for many, their Catholic church offers the warmth and comfort of family. The Bible is clear on the status of older members of the church; 1 Peter 5:5 states that the young should submit to their elders, being humble rather than proud. This may mean organizing a rota for people to bring them meals as they recover from an illness, offering lifts to church or social events, clearing snow from a driveway or even just being a nominated emergency contact for medical alerts if they have no nearby family members. As a church body, there are many practical ways to show love and respect towards older people. This not only makes the individual feel cared for but also demonstrates Christian values and love to others within the community.
A wealth of wisdom in return
The enormous value of what older people can offer to their churches cannot be underestimated. A new report speaks of the power of Purposeful Ageing; finding ways to enjoy a happy, healthy old age by volunteering, being more creative, trying new opportunities. In a church context, this translates as interested, engaged people with time and skills to offer; whether that’s by teaching younger people, supporting new mothers or simply listening to those who are struggling, with the benefit of experience to offer them. Those relationships can become two-way streets; the older person feels valuable, appreciated and respected, and others in the church receive the benefits of their time and knowledge.
As the population grows ever older, it’s increasingly important for Catholic churches to review how they look after these members of their church families. There are many practical ways to serve and love older people, from a mundane car-pool rota to the friendly offer of a Sunday lunch after the service. In return, older members can offer so much time, enthusiasm and experience to people of all ages within the church. All of this reflects outwards to the wider community, and upwards to God.