Churches, and individuals in churches, can reach, serve and empower older people in many ways: practical support at home, health and wellbeing, serving the community, transport, visiting and befriending, lunch and other meals, social groups, care at home or housing. There are resources on all of these in the Resource Hub.
Here are some ideas.
Sometimes the simplest form of support that can be provided to a local community – information.
Isolation can lead to a sense of powerlessness and despair. But it is amazing how much information is known by each ‘service’ that somehow does not make it to other services or to the individuals who may benefit from it. Information can be gained through the internet; local libraries; town/county councils; social services; health services; local charities; local churches. It can (and often does) take quite a long ‘slog’ to pull information together. But that is why it needs to be done – so that the groundwork is done and you have pulled together a ‘one stop’ information point for your community to turn to, to know where to go for what.
What medium are you going to use to share your newfound knowledge? Being on the end of the phone; having a church resource centre; community café; a corner of a library; a book shop; a ‘drop in’ centre?
However it is done, make sure you ‘advertise’ everywhere so that your information service does not become yet one more ‘good thing’ that no-one knows about.
And don’t forget to plan how you intend to keep the information up-to-date.
‘Longer-lived’ individuals have often led full lives, been independent, raised families, worked and been pillars of their communities providing support to those around them. This experience and resource is effectively lost to the younger generation if it is not shared. What skills / interests / wants or needs, do older individuals in the community have that they could share with others, thereby jointly enhancing lives and promoting self-worth?
Groups which may already do this locally include:
- Education Groups (incl. U3A, University of the Third Age)
- Trustworthy tradesmen
- Volunteer opportunities
- Benefit Information
- Bible studies
- Home care
- Lunch groups
- Support groups
- Information specific to health conditions
- Health support
- Social groups
- Leisure groups
- Church groups/services
Reach by bringing people together
Our need for involvement from others also varies at different times. At a personal level, the thing we take for granted today could be a memory for tomorrow so if we can facilitate even the smallest help for someone else today, how much difference that could make to that person’s life?
For example, if someone is going shopping weekly but their neighbour cannot get to the shops, could a joint shopping trip is arranged – not where one person is shopping for another, but where two people travel together to the same destination, do their own thing, then travel home again?
Practical ways of bringing people together might be simple:
- transport to an appointment;
- taking someone with you to a club/shop/church service;
- a pair of eyes and a sounding board for form filling,
- completing referral sheets
- offering to be a local collection point for deliveries
- diary planning or thinking through plans together
Reach, serve and empower by building friendships
We have all experienced that momentary feeling of dread – the one when we think we might get some bad news or when we are going into a room of people we don’t know: ‘will anyone talk with me?’, ‘am I going to trip on something and make a complete fool of myself?’. For most people, that’s only a momentary feeling. We soon get over it. But some people are constantly in a position where this sums up a much more permanent feeling. Isolation and loneliness are not necessarily the same, but their impact on day-to-day living can be severe.
Start with identifying those who are lonely or isolated. Get alongside people you know are by themselves and pay attention to events in their day to day lives. Become a ‘trusted, reliable’ contact who can be seen as having time and being genuinely interested in what is happening. This can often lead to the opportunity to accompany someone at times when a ‘second pair of ears’ would be good or having someone to ‘go with’ would mean that ‘you went’.
- Go to a hospital appointment to make sure no information is ‘missed’
- Take a trip that you will both enjoy, somewhere you have both always wanted to visit
- Being present when tradesmen or care services call, especially when hard of hearing
- Establish a joint interest and join a club together
- Work together to achieve day to day tasks – shopping, gardening, housework
Spending time with, and valuing, those around you can lead to extraordinary sharing, laughter, learning and the building of a long term friendship.
Serve by thinking through accessibility in churches
There is more on this subject in the resource hub, but churches can help bring people together by:
- Researching methods of making services/groups/information accessible to those with differing abilities – i.e. does the print on a service need to be larger / a different colour / a certain type of font
- Thinking through where the person who mobilises with a wheelchair can sit when the church is full of pews
- Thinking through how the church service can be enjoyed by someone living with dementia
"At the beginning of the year we prayed for ways that we could get to know the Seniors in our church and village better; to deepen our relationships with them. We are finding that through the regular phone calls we are making to the Seniors at this time of not seeing them they are talking more opening and honestly, chatting for longer and looking forward to our phone calls . We thank God that he has used this time to answer our prayers! We also prayed for generations to mix and that has happened as we have linked a young family with a Senior for phone calls and support" – Jane*, Bath
“Following your last month’s <news> post about 'Holiday at Home' we decided to do something for all our elderly people who were very upset that we were not able to run this three-day event this year. We put together 50 cream teas including a scone, Clotted Cream, jam and piece of cake and a tea bag. A team of us then delivered to all our elderly around the Parish and they were so favourably received; the main comment being “how kind that you thought of us oldies during this difficult time when we can’t all get together”. – Supporter, via email.
"I have become a conduit between the local authority and the churches, helping them to network. Because of the Faith in Later Life directory they are seeing what church is doing. You take it to local authority and agencies, then you can start to work together. You speak to the community engagement manager, say, and say “Our church want to help with older people in this area. We’ve got this national church initiative – details on the postcard, and you’ll see our church is in the directory, with other local churches and contact details. We’re there if you need to contact us. Can we help?" - Ruth, Faith in Later Life Church Champion.