What will the new normal look like, and what can we do now to prepare? Ten things to consider for churches ministering to older people.
A quick look at our UK based Activities Directory shows churches up and down the country (prior to Coronavirus) hosting gatherings of older people. The lockdown picture would be very different. Is now the time to start considering what a ‘new normal’ might look like for churches?
A survey released at the start of May showed what we have suspected: that even when restrictions are released, many people will still avoid going out. Some of the elderly and vulnerable are likely to be more anxious, while others resent being told they need to stay in while they are fit and active. While we are waiting for more clarity on relaxing restrictions for those aged over 70, churches are already looking ahead.
It is really hard to plan in uncertainty. These are some things that seem more certain:
- Things will not get back to normal
Churches have proved they can innovate in a crisis. They will need to continually innovate to respond to shifting restrictions and health situations. The days of setting up semi-permanent programmes may be over. Try something that works now, and be ready to adapt.
- There will be greater financial need
In times of recession there are those who slip through the net. Churches need to be those who notice and react. We have so much we can learn from the older generation about simplicity, frugality and generosity. Some have experienced extreme financial difficulty before. We need their wisdom, and we need to be ready to help even those who would never dream of asking.
- People may avoid public transport
Walking, cycling and driving reduce the risk of infection. Older people, particularly those in cities or busy towns, may feel far more comfortable staying in their nearby neighbourhood. Can we start developing new local clusters and relationships now, so groups can meet within walking distance? If there are other churches closer to where people live, can those churches start talking now about how best to connect with their most local older people?
- Communal singing may be discouraged
It is emerging that singing can spread infection as quickly as spreading, but singing together is so central to our communal worship. Churches may need to think creatively about their spaces and gatherings. Services like ‘Hymns We Love’ on the ‘Daily Hope’ prayer line will also help keep music and singing central.
- Messages by phone and in the post will be welcomed
Many churches are sending prayers, letters, cards and transcripts of their church’s Sunday talk in the post to those who aren’t able to get out and perhaps don’t have the internet (see here for a related blog from us). The ‘Daily Hope’ prayer line is being used by those with and without faith, and thousands phone it every day. (It’s free for UK based callers). Friendship prayer lines like that offered by Linking Lives are also a huge encouragement. Where possible these should continue, because for some they will have become a lifeline. Isolation doesn’t necessarily end when lockdown ends.
- More and more older people will use technology to connect
The growth in older people not just accessing but regularly using services like Zoom, Skype and email has grown out of necessity. Livestreaming church services is likely to continue in some form in many places even when people can gather in person. Can churches provide more in-person practical help so that older people, particularly those currently without internet, can access all that is there?
- Care homes will need extra support
Those working and living in care homes will have experienced significant trauma and loss during this time. There will be mental health implications for many years in some cases. Churches can use our Christian care home directory to identify their local care home. Even now, could you let them know that you are praying for them, and that you will be there to support them over the coming months?
- The isolated will need to be found
With fewer social gatherings it will take more creativity to find those most isolated and in need of help. A link with your local council social services and befriending services might help; also delivering flyers to your neighbours in the same way that many did at the start of lockdown. That same level of pro-active offering of help will be needed for many months.
- The community will need connection with the church
Some Faith in Later Life ‘Church Champions’ use our UK based Activity Directory to show their local council just how much churches are doing – and they are thrilled to know about it, because they want to find ways to reach older people with their services. This is a great time to tell the relevant social care people in your council what is happening with and for older people in your church, so that those mutually beneficial connections can continue.
- God is at work
Some of us love change. Some of us hate it. Our God never changes: He is always there, always with us, and always going before us. There is so much we don’t see. We just need to play our part, trusting that He is the good shepherd and will guide us faithfully.
Could you champion later life within your church community? Maybe you do already! If so, would you consider joining our international network of Faith in Later Life ‘Church Champions’?