Churches in danger of forgetting vital group - seniors
By Mags Storey | Friday, July 2, 2010
VANCOUVER, BCOur spiritual usefulness doesn't expire once we hit our 60s, says Maxine Hancock, and our churches need to do a better job of recognizing that.
According to Hancock, professor emerita at Regent College, Canadian churches all too often follow our culture's obsession with youth. "I think we're terrible at thinking about aging," Hancock says. "I don't think we look at it any differently from the rest of society."
"I think we've bought into our culture's model of segregation. I think we've bought into this myth that going away to a pretty little sunset villa where we get to do nothing all day but relax and play is part of 'living the good life.'
"So we as churches shunt our seniors off into seniors' activities and seniors' classes. However nicely and sweetly we do it, we remove them from meaningful interaction with the younger generation and just try to entertain them, without expecting any significant involvement that their giftedness will serve the rest of the body. It's part of the terrible cost of mega-churches."
Hancock has been lecturing about aging as part of Regent College's Under the Green Roof public lecture series. She is also presenting a paper at the International John Bunyan Society in the United Kingdom this summer.
She adds that many retirees have been "complicit" in viewing their age as license to no longer consider how they can contribute to the wider church and society.
"I think we've all got to reposition our thinking to see life after 60 as an important part of our lives," she says, "and not as just a little stub that's left over, that we get to fritter away."
Christians also have to do a better job of thinking through the even later stages of life, according to Sherri Auger and Barbara Wickens, authors of Now What? A practical guide to dealing with aging, illness and dying.
The new book is designed to help families deal with the practical, relational and spiritual implications of dealing with a loved one's final stage of life, from how to evaluate whether someone can continue to live on their own, to how to wrap up a person's estate.
"Both of us found that when our parents were aging, and eventually passed away, there was not a single resource readily available to find all the information we needed," Auger says, adding that people often underestimate how "emotionally draining" end-of-life issues can be.
"The grieving process often starts with the discovery that a loved one gets sick, has a terminal illness, or can no longer live on their own," Auger says. "It starts with that sense of realizing that things are changing."
"People don't like to talk about it," says Wickens. "They don't want to sound morbid. They want to be polite. So we've included some practical information about how to start those conversations with your family."
"In our experience, people are still very much in denial regarding the whole topic," Auger adds.
"I think we're in a death-denying culture," Hancock says, "therefore we don't want that information until we should have already known it."
Hancock says we need more resources that help equip people to face issues such as body and brain deterioration from a Christian perspective. She also urges churches to return to having strong teaching on what the "last third" or life is for, and how to approach aging biblically.
"We need to look at how we live in the hope of our Christian vision through the whole last stage of life," she says. "We've got to start thinking and talking about this. Because if we as Christians don't speak a word of hope, of thoughtfulness, of preparation into the conversation, than we're really just turning over the conversation to a youth and beauty culture where aging is just seen as deterioration.
"We need to talk about how to face the specific health issues and temptations of this stage of life, as well as the opportunities for growth and for blessing. We have to start exploring the richness of aging again."
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