Notes from FIEC Leadership in Lockdown webinar on ‘Ministry with older people and emerging from lockdown’ with John Stevens, Carl Knightly, and Pippa Cramer.
1. 1 Thessalonians 2:4 encourages us to have confidence in our calling to tell people the gospel. We have been given authority by God as those identified, set apart and sent out by the church to preach the gospel – we have the right to speak because it has been given to us by God. We have a responsibility too to be faithful to the gospel. Yes, we have authority to speak, but it is to speak the gospel not our message. We are not free to alter it – our task is to deliver it, the whole message, both offering salvation but also warning of judgment. We are accountable to our master, speaking to please God and this protects us from saying only what people want to hear.
2. Guidance update:
– Frustrations because removal of COVID restrictions has been delayed; there is a general breakdown of observance seen in football stadiums, pubs, festivals with government allowing this to happen while churches not being granted the same freedom; the singing guidance has changed in Scotland and Wales.
– Removal of COVID restrictions is on 19 July in England, but removal of restrictions does not necessary mean what we think. There is the possibility that face coverings will be required in some settings.
– Under strict guidance congregation singing indoors is allowed in churches in Scotland and Wales (low community transmission rates, face coverings worn, 2m social distancing between congregation members) but so far not in England. Although in England no singing is guidance rather than law, there are health and safety and insurances implications that need to be considered.
3. What can we do about singing?
– Church groups are lobbying the government.
– Do we want to settle for Scottish/Welsh solution? 2m social distancing won’t work for many churches.
– Choose to ignore the guidance. This is for individual churches and leaders to decide, but will need a risk assessment that reflects this and also need to be aware that many insurance companies expect churches to follow the guidance to the full. Consideration about how this will affect church unity is important too.
– Engage your MP about the issue.
– Understand the government concerns – they see churches as gatherings of elderly people; concerned about risk where faith groups based in communities where there has been low uptake of vaccine.
– Sing outdoors as much as you can.
– Remain patient – the guidance is unsustainable for amateur choirs, nightclubs etc.
4. Planning for Autumn/Winter 2021-22 we need to recognise that no promises that restrictions will not be reintroduced have been made and so plan with contingency options in mind.
5. Faith in Later Life is an organisation focused on inspiring and equipping Christians in reach, serve and empower older people in every community, through the local church.
6. The context is that there are 11.9 million older people in UK. 41% of older people feel out of touch with the pace of modern life. A million + older people go for over a month without speaking to a friend, neighbour, or family member. Over 5 million older people say that the TV or their pet is their main company. Over 1.2 million older people are chronically lonely. 33% of CofE attenders are 70+.
7. God designed old age on purpose – to radiate his graciousness and righteousness; to share experiences; to tell out His works; to teach and encourage the younger generation. Old age is a blessing from God.
8. How we view older people shapes the way we do ministry in our context.
9. Culturally we are slanted towards youth. Children and young people are important but just as important are older people (and everyone in between) as all need to hear the gospel.
10. Older people can be a real blessing to churches with their prayers, experience, wisdom, maturity and perspective.
11. When ministering to older people, don’t make digital assumptions about them. Remember that gentle encouragement can go a long way. Think innovation, but keep it simple.
12. Coming out of COVID we must acknowledge legitimate fear some have.
13. Involve older people in church life as co-workers – ask for their ideas for everything: outreach, prayer ministry, blessing the young – and give them opportunity to ‘tell out’ God’s faithfulness.
14. Encourage all in your churches to be intentional in calling and visiting older friends and neighbours. Encourage church members to accompany older members of the congregation to church, to build confidence and reassure.
15. As restrictions continue to ease, consider inviting seniors to small garden gatherings to increase confidence and encourage church members to host these.
16. The Lord knows the older people in the community that He wants to reach.
17. Daily Hope is a free phone line of hymns, reflections and prayers – 0800 804 8044.
18. The older generation grew up with hymns and remember the words of hymns. Hymns can be used as a way of sharing the gospel with them in an engaging way. They resonate with stories – what’s your story?