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The Over 55s- a force to be reckoned with

Posted: 11/06/15

Ridley Faculty member, Anthea McCall, reports on the recent Pastoral Seminar held at Ridley.

A near capacity crowd gathered in the main dining room of Ridley College this May to think through the theology and practice of ministry by and to the ageing. Ageing is one of those topics no one likes to think about. As one speaker Andrew Cameron, Director of St Mark’s Theological Centre in Canberra said, “Getting our minds on ageing is like getting teenagers to think about budgeting, or AFL supporters to think about opera.” Churches contribute to this avoidance by valorising youth, concentrating their efforts on children and youth, and by allowing age-cohortism to dictate relationships.

Yet connecting with people over 55 needs to be a key element of how the Church responds to the changing face of our society. The Rev. Craig Maher, Head of Pastoral Care for HammondCare in Melbourne, highlighted some key statistics related to the massive increase in the over 55s in Australia in the next few decades. The number of Australians who live past 65 will double. The number of people suffering from dementia will increase three-fold. Australians will be healthier longer, but more than half of those over 75 will have chronic health problems. More health care will be provided at home, but a high proportion of them will live alone. A map of Melbourne displayed the astonishing projection of the over 70s: Melton and Wyndam would increase by 96%! Craig challenged the use of the language of ‘tsunami’ to describe Australia’s future problem of more and more aged people. Rather ,we were encouraged to consider the positive implications for how we care, how we harness older persons to be involved in God’s mission, and how we reach them with the gospel. A number of presenters spoke of the recent conversions to Christ of people in their very mature years.

These forecasts call for strategies in ministry, both theological and practical. Dr Cameron said that individuals and churches required a much more robust theological vision for later life. This talk was an absolutely brilliant biblical and theological synthesis, and I encourage you to read his chapter in his book called “Living in the next phase – developing the theology, practice and ministries of later life”. This material deserves deep study and reflection. My hope is that churches will find this useful for teaching of their congregations.

Dr Cameron’s second talk addressed attitudes and behaviours which enable people to ‘3rd’ and ‘4th Age’ well. Boomers have different issues to Seniors. But he noted that all older people still need to grow in maturity, and we can fail to care for them by failing to criticize their poor morals or virtues. Retirees also need help to re-train for the profession of retirement.

There were three workshops run by health and ministry practitioners. Associate Professor Colm Cunningham, Director of HammondCare’s Dementia Centre, talked through issues of hearing and engaging those with dementia. Andrew Cameron spoke on the theme of “finding each person, from fourth age to death.” A third workshop show-cased two different approaches to ministry to the aged. One ministry was very formal, arranged by the parish team. Another was informal, initiated by individual parishioners, and resourced by them. The presenters Ian Nyholm and Doug Petering had great practical ideas.

The Rev. Tracy Lauersen, a minister at St Hilary’s Kew/North Balwyn and Director of the Peter Corney Training Centre, said in the final session that parishes need to seriously consider ministry to and through the Boomer generation as they begin to retire. She said: “The group through which the church grew (Boomers) is the same group through which the church has shrunk.” The boomers are consumers, liable to boredom, disillusionment and to leaving the church. It would be wrong to assume we needn’t consider their needs as they age. Furthermore she said “Boomers, who are the largest group in our churches are also the largest group in our nation.” With 22% of our nation represented by Boomers, many of whom are de-churched, we need to consider ways of reaching them with the gospel. The best way to do that is to equip our own boomer parishioners to reach their friends with the gospel. “Churches have an opportunity to help this generation to achieve their highest potential for God in the second half of their lives.”

Andrew Cameron concluded the day by suggesting a ministry-to-seniors model for churches of a moderate size. Aim to have on staff at least one theologically trained facilitator of ‘later life’ ministry (LLM). Before retirement, every Christian could be offered pathways for volunteer ministry. A LLM can co-ordinate, teach, and train volunteers to work amongst third and fourth agers, liaise with work being done in aged care facilities in the parish, and much more. Andrew Cameron had a great idea of funding this work in the parish via bequests.

Many materials from this Ridley Pastoral Seminar can be accessed via this website. Andrew Cameron’s book can be ordered via the Next Phase Ministries website.

Questions for you and your church to contemplate:

Resources from the event >

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