Hope-filled Older People’s ministry

Rhi Cross is part of our Church Champion community and she leads the older people’s ministry at Hope Church, Winchester. We recently had the pleasure of speaking to her about her work and her passion for empowering older people.

Rhi has been a part of her church’s older people’s ministry for the past four years, which began with her and a friend meeting up to pray about how they could serve the older members in their church. In addition to her role at her church, Rhi is also an Occupational Therapist (OT) with the NHS. Her experience working on a dementia ward is where she describes God showing her His heart for her to work with older people. She admitted that she hadn’t always been passionate about working with older people, but as God kept placing her in jobs caring for older people, her passion grew, and she could see His guiding hand in it.

Rhi explained to us how her work as an OT informs her approach and attitude in her ministry work. She wants to be able to support the older people in her church; physically, mentally, and spiritually. She quoted John 10;10 ‘…I came that they may have life and have it abundantly’, and explained how she wants to help the older people in her church live life more fully. The name of their older people’s work is aptly named HOPE Life, Helping Older People Enjoy Life.

Rhi is deeply passionate about empowering, and also challenging, older people in her group about their involvement in church life. She believes that older people have a responsibility to share their wisdom and experience with the younger members of the church, in the same way the young members have a responsibility to learn from and respect them. She sees her role as facilitating this, creating opportunities for the older member to step up, share and engage, and, as a result, feel more valued. One way she is doing this is by connecting older members of the church with the student to stay in touch, which she says has been particularly valuable during the pandemic, and it helps the students to get to know the older people as individuals.

Rhi was also very clear that an important part of this is churches being much more positive about aging. She explained that a negative view of ageing tells older people ‘we don’t want to be like you’, which can mean older members are more likely to count themselves out and not get as involved. Rhi described that society makes idols out of independence and productivity, so that when you lose these things, you lose your value. Therefore, churches need be careful to not share in this.

Rather, churches need to be breaking down the misconceptions of old age and be willing to adapt so that older people can get involved in outreach, events, and church life. An example Rhi gave at her church was that some older members in her group were keen to get involved with the church outreach but weren’t able to help with initiatives such as the soup kitchen. Then, a local care home got in touch asking if anyone from the church would be able to volunteer and visit the residents, which the older members were keen to do! They then started making regular visits, having social time with residents, with the opportunity to outreach too.

Rhi also suggested some helpful tips and approaches that she uses in her work, that you can apply to your ministry too:

  • It is important to understand the needs of older people, not what we think their needs are, and ask them what they want.
  • Older people’s ministry isn’t one-sided. It isn’t solely about supporting an older person, but all being ‘in it together’.
  • It can be good to (respectfully) challenge older people on how they are meeting their biblical responsibility to share their wisdom and experience.
  • Meet up with other people working in older people’s ministry in your local churches or community and discuss your work and share ideas. Being a part of our Church Champion community is great for that too!

Those who are older should speak, for wisdom comes with age. Job 32:7