Society has changed. We now have the largest generation of older people in history, and ageist stereotypes are being challenged by people who are living full, productive lives, even into their 90s and 100s.
Many in their 70s and 80s are active in their churches, volunteering and sharing the gospel. More attention is being paid to faith in later life, so it was encouraging to see All Nations’ Centre in Leicester packed for the Pilgrims’ Friend Society’s (PFS) conference, ‘God’s purposes in later life’, and its 211th annual general meeting, on 12 May.
Keynote speaker was evangelist Roger Carswell, whose lively talk stressed that older people should be encouraged to reach others with the gospel, particularly their grandchildren, and recommended the use of gospel tracts and booklets.
Rev. Canon Ian Knox spoke about the theology of faith in later life and gave practical advice on sharing faith with older people. In the near future, the older people we encounter will no longer be ‘the Sunday school generation’. Instead, we will be reaching a ‘godless generation’, explained Rev. Roger Hitchings.
Roger Hitchings is known for his passion for the Bible and love of older people. In his session, called ‘Re-tyred, not retired’, he showed how keeping active in God’s service is a biblical means of enriching later years: that godly activity enhances individuals’ spiritual lives.
‘Where are God’s purposes in dementia?’ asked Dr Jennifer Bute, Fellow of the Royal College of General Practitioners, who has been living with dementia for about 15 years. ‘If we embrace what God has given us, he can do great things’, she said.
Dr Bute described having dementia as a ‘glorious opportunity’, in which, with her medical background, she can help others understand and live with it better. She is a regular speaker at secular and Christian events, and her book, Dementia from the inside: a doctor’s personal journey of hope (written with Louise Morse), will be published in November.
Dr Bute also spoke on finding joy and peace in tough places, showing how the Scriptures help us through all our circumstances, whatever they are.
Author and speaker Louise Morse said the key to seniors’ purpose in later life is Ephesians 2:10, which describes how God has given each person specific talents for the roles he has predestined for them.
However, many older people have unconsciously absorbed ageism, which lowers their expectations. The key to challenging ageism is in Proverbs 4:23, which says, ‘Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it’.
Ms Morse also examined the causes of loneliness and how churches can help people who feel lonely, beginning with those in our own church fellowships. ‘Silver Cord’ befriends and ministers to needy people in the community in Tameside, Manchester. It involves around 50 volunteers from five different services and it was described by Debs Fidler, older persons’ community worker at Mottram Evangelical Church.
There was encouragement for carers, with Dr Sarah Jones, a former consultant in medicine for older people who retired early to take care of her husband’s elderly mother. She spoke on how believers can encourage others in a caring role.
The centre point of the conference was PFS’s annual meeting, which was an opportunity for supporters to hear about our work over the past year and our plans looking ahead.
Carl Knightly, director of engagement for the PFS, said: ‘Our annual meeting is always an encouragement for supporters, as they hear how God continues to provide for our ministry, often seemingly miraculously’.
It is often said that PFS conferences are always more than the sum of their parts. It was certainly true this year, where, as well as benefiting from individual sessions, everyone enjoyed each other’s friendship and fellowship.