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franciscan - September 1998

© The Society of Saint Francis 1998

Caring for Older People

by John Worsfold

Jesus said, ‘I came that they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly.’ The whole gospel is about new life, about hope, faith and new beginnings. My work of caring for older people, both within a residential home and within the community, is to help them explore and realise their potential in old age. We all need to become more aware of the contribution older people can make to our society.

The population in the United Kingdom is growing older. For example, in 1994, there were eight thousand people aged a hundred years and over. It is predicted that by the year 2031 there will be thirty-four thousand people in this age group. Those aged over eighty-five will increase from nearly two per cent of the total UK population to nearly three per cent by the year 2026.

To the world, older people are often stereotyped as always being sick, infirm and of no use to anyone. Older people are reminders to many that we are all mortal and old age will creep up on each one of us and there will come a day when we will die.
The Church, too, often takes on board this negative view and promotes the same stereotypical images to society. It has largely not addressed the myths and underlying fears which cause older people to be pushed to the margins of our thoughts. The Church all too often has perpetuated a negative view of old age. We have only to remember Pope John XXIII, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela and other older people who have changed the course of history to see how wrong are our attitudes concerning old age. Our attitudes towards older people and age-related concerns have got to change because we are storing up trouble for ourselves if we don’t.

Church Army Homes are seen in our communities, both within Social Services and the local churches, as places where older people are valued and respected. They are places where people can come to know God and see that these latter years are years of renewal and growth. Our homes have a very good name because we care for the whole person. We care for them physically, mentally, emotionally, socially and spiritually. There are some social workers who are beginning to realise the importance of spiritual care. Spirituality has to do with becoming a person in the fullest sense – becoming a whole person.

Since April 1993, when the Care in the Community Act came into being, Church Army Homes have worked more fully with the social services in providing residential care for older people. A good number of the residents in our Homes have had little or no contact with the Church or the things of God, and yet they are often found to have been searching and seeking for a meaning to life. They are wanting to know more about the Lord and we have the opportunity to present the gospel to them through the Services and Fellowship groups that we provide.

It is important to remember that a number of people who live in our Homes have been committed Christians from a very early age and many use the spiritual wealth they have to help others. They will tell you that it is through their faith and spirituality that they have been able to cope with the rapid changes of life – physical, psychological, social and cultural. It is often in old age that spirituality matures and becomes a great source of well being.

In our Home in Lowestoft, we have a time of prayer and Bible reading each morning which all residents want to attend. We have two Fellowships Groups every week, one of which is conducted by a lady in her nineties. The other Bible study group is attended by twelve to fifteen residents. Members of the Franciscan Third Order, on occasions, join with us for this. We have evening services every Sunday and Wednesday and these are open to relatives and friends. Holy Communion is celebrated once a month, and on Sundays a good number of residents go to local churches. Some of the staff have been converted to Christianity through their involvement in the Home.

Residents who are suffering from dementia are also given spiritual care. It is important to remember that the Holy Spirit ministers to the spirit of a person and can do so irrespective of the mind.

All our residents have a voice in the running of the Home through their Residents’ Meetings which are held monthly. I often remind them that Harleston House, here in Lowestoft, is their home – it is not mine or the staff’s – it is their home and they should be given the opportunity to tell us what they like or dislike about the practice in the Home and the changes they might want to take place. We have a volunteer who is our Quality Assurance Advisor, who ensures that the care we give is of the highest quality.

A Relatives’ Group meets regularly, discussing ideas which will enhance the residents’ lives even more. We have regular social activities, with games evenings, music and movement, concerts and bingo.

Because of the nature of the work, four or five times a year we are faced with a death in the Home. Both residents and staff have come to terms with their mortality and see death as an important part of living. We realise that we can’t live life to the full unless we have come fully to terms with our own deaths. Our dying is the time when we pass from this way of living to the eternal way. No resident is left alone when nearing death. It is such an important time in our lives that we need those we know around us as we go forward into the nearer presence of God.

Relatives, staff and residents take it in turns to sit with those who are dying. I usually conduct the funeral service of a resident who has died. All Church Army Homes have such a good name for their care of the dying. It is because of the very professional care we provide that we get so may requests from older people for places in our Homes. Individuals and groups of older people visit the Home and sit and have a cup of tea with the residents and then join us for worship and praise. In the summer, groups of people from the community use our large garden for parties and strawberry teas. Many people who visit remark on the peaceful loving atmosphere – some tell us that they go away refreshed and uplifted. This is because God is at the very centre of our Home. We pray each day that his love, joy, peace and care may surround all we do. We also work amongst older people in the community, visiting them pastorally and helping them in their own homes. We also visit relatives of those who have died, whether they have died in Harleston House or in their own homes.

God seems to be using us more and more to make his love known to all older people in Lowestoft, and the Church Army have just appointed an Officer to work among older people in the local deanery. There are thousands of people who have come to know God through the Church Army. We also have Homes in Bovey Tracy, Brighton, Tunbridge Wells and Woking. The work we do at present in Lowestoft began in 1882 and will continue with God’s help long into the next century. §

John Worsfold has been with the Church Army since 1983 and is the Manager of Harleston House in Lowestoft. He also helps out in the local parish. John is on the Church Army planning group for the Older People Focus Group. He might be better known to many as Brother Bruce SSF, formerly a member of the First Order for nineteen years.


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