A new initiative was launched by five leading Christian charities — Pilgrims’ Friend Society, the Salvation Army, London City Mission, Mission Care and Keychange — on 10 October 2017, in the House of Lords.
Focusing on the profound societal consequences of an ageing UK population, Faith in Later Life (FiLL) draws attention to wide-ranging changes needed in our communities for older people to live fulfilled, productive and dignified lives.
The initiative aims at informing, equipping and inspiring individual Christians and churches to lead in an area of need that is far too often portrayed as merely an ‘issue’ or ‘problem’. But the attitude towards older people taken by the Bible is very different from this approach and is a challenge to 21st century Christians in the UK.
Lord Mackay of Clashfern, who hosted the launch said: ‘The Bible describes older people as having a vital role to play in the church and in society and we are blessed that advances in medicine mean that there will be a significant increase in their numbers. Many of these will be Christians, who will be seeking to know how they can continue to work out their faith in later life.
‘Many are living increasingly lonely and isolated lives and they need to hear the good news of the gospel. These are siginficant opportunities and challenges and I am delighted that Faith in Later Life has been launched, to help churches and Christian people respond’.
FiLL has commissioned a study by London Seminary into the theology of old age. It has also built up a library of information and resources relative to later life that is accessible via its new website (www.faithinlaterlife.org). The website brings together different evangelism resources for use with older people and provides links and ideas on how best to engage those who are in later life.
Alan Hare, project manager for FiLL, commented: ‘If Jesus were alive today to survey the harvest field for his church, he would have noticed many older people. FiLL seeks to inspire and equip Christians living with and working with older people, as other organisations have been doing over many years for Christian youth work’.
Among several other contributors, Dr Jennifer Bute, founder of Gloriousopportunity.org, commented: ‘I have come to see my diagnosis of dementia as an opportunity to challenge the church, and others, to understand dementia better and to see the positive contribution that people living with dementia can make, if only we were seen as God sees us. I am delighted that FiLL will also make all that I have learned more available to people who need to know’.
Roger Hitchings, pastor and conference speaker, said: ‘There is a great need for information that is based on solid Bible teaching and is proven in practice. I applaud FiLL for being prepared to commission work of this kind, where there are gaps, and to make what already exists more accessible’.
Adrian Reynolds, FIEC training director, said: ‘Starting, growing and resourcing work amongst seniors is a pressing need for the church in the UK. This focused initiative is an essential tool in our desire to see faith flourish amongst a much-neglected segment of our population’.
The Bible celebrates older people as deserving honour, and having a vital role to work with the following generations (e.g. Psalm 145:1-6).
In the UK, one in three children born today are expected to reach 100 years; the number of people aged over 90 has almost tripled in the last 30 years to just under 1 million. By 2035 it is estimated that almost 1 in 2 adults will be aged over 65.