As a national UK lockdown eases, some people are returning to work and many church buildings are either open again, or making tentative plans to reopen; and even those people who have been shielding have been told they don’t need to do this anymore. But what sort of new normal do we have to look forward to? Whilst we are told to wear masks when we cannot “socially distance”, broadly speaking we are being encouraged to re-engage in society, not least for the sake of economic recovery, but also because human contact is good for you. And yet there are many older people who do not feel comfortable or safe, to start re-engaging. Of course older people are not a homogeneous group and there will be those who are delighted they can start doing some of the things they were doing 6 months ago, but there remain a significant number of people, many of whom are older, who understandably still do not want to change their routine, for fear of catching Covid19. And as Christians we cannot, and must not forget about them.
As society reopens, in some quarters a proposed argument is to segment society, essentially keep in old and infirm at home, while the rest of us get on with it. I don’t think that argument stands up, but more importantly, society needs older people as much as younger people, perhaps even more. Because as well as their economic contribution, and the vital role they play in families (in child care alone, older people contribute over £6 billion to the UK economy) older people bring, and particularly older Christians bring wisdom and life experience; and older Christians are often the praying linchpins their church needs.
Church is intergenerational by design, and God has plans for His seniors. Psalm 92 reminds us of this when it says “they will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green…”
As Christians we have a unique opportunity in the midst of much grief, distress and fear, to speak the hope and love of Jesus into our communities, and also to re-imagine what church is, as opposed to (pre coronavirus) what our church communities may have inadvertently become. We all know that the church isn’t the building, but in recent months we have had to model that, as we have been scattered. How tragic it would be if as we rejoin church (and I am very much looking to rejoining my church family in our church building) we forgot the older members of our congregation who remain at home.
So what can we do? Well we can ensure other older church members continue to have spiritual encouragement and support even if they are not in church on a Sunday. Many churches are sharing services on the phone, or sending written copies of the sermon. Others are pointing people to the free ‘Daily Hope’ phone line, set up by the Church of England, Faith in Later Life, and Pippa Cramer, the Seniors Minister at Holy Trinity Claygate church in Surrey. And maybe we can think of our older church members as “working from home”. Can we ask them to pray, involve them appropriately with decisions, and church business. And if you are an older people remaining at home, maybe you can ask your church leader how you can continue to be involved. Wherever we are physically located, as a church family we remain “one body”. Is there an older member of your church you could call today, for a chat?
And what about the older people in your wider community, who may not have the assurance of salvation, who may not have family members, and who may be lonely and afraid? We can pray, and we can act. We can consider who is on our street, and what their needs may be- we may want to drop a leaflet in their door introducing ourselves and providing our phone number. And for those older people we already know in our community, maybe we can have a list of names on our fridge, so we can remember to give them a call and to pray for them regularly.
As we start by God’s grace to emerge from this pandemic, we can be the hands and feet of the Lord Jesus, and we show that God loves everyone, and wants all people to know they are loved, and not forgotten.