I recently had a video call with my friend Betty from church, who is 100 and lives in a care home. She was in good spirits and knows a closeness with the Lord that comes from many decades of following Him. Something she said really struck a chord with me: there’s a difference between living and simply existing”.

As Betty observed, many older people have felt as though they have merely existed for the last year, when they couldn’t leave their homes or receive visitors. Even before lockdown, 5 million older people said the television or their pet was their closest form of company[1] and this issue certainly hasn’t been resolved by months alone. Many older Christians previously found that the physical time spent at church was a key touchpoint in terms of human interaction and fellowship. But now all that has changed, and many are anxious about what the future may bring.

Of course, as we reap the benefits of the vaccination programme and begin to emerge from lockdown, there is much to be thankful for. Whoever thought that we would be so grateful to be able to sit down outside with a friend for coffee or lunch?! And I am very excited about the possibility of taking my children on a day out somewhere, anywhere! 


And yet as we do emerge from lockdown, we need to ensure we emerge together, as a whole society, across all demographics, and of course, in our church communities, as a whole body of believers. We cannot leave anyone behind, inadvertently or otherwise. Many churches have done a wonderful job, in unprecedented circumstances, offering safe in-person services, online church, and doorstep pastoral support. And the national free Daily Hope’ phone line[2] has proved a lifeline, making prayers, reflections, and services available on the phone for those older people unable to engage with online church. 

But what will things look like in our church 6 or 12 months from now? Will a phygital’ (physical and digital) church calendar become the norm? Doing Alpha from our own sofas seems to have been highly successful, so why not continue? It would seem that demand for church events to be multi-pronged will remain, although whether church leaders have the capacity to maintain this level of provision does need to be considered. But as we plan for the future, what of the 2 million older people not online[3], or those who may be afraid or unable to venture out? How do churches minister effectively to them? 

To answer these questions, it’s worth considering each of our church contexts individually, because no two churches are the same. I would also suggest that we reflect more widely as the UK church on how we value older people, and where we place them in our list of priority groups for mission. Below are some questions which will hopefully aid our reflection on this topic:

  1. How do we view older people generally?
  2. Do we know the older people in our church and how they might feel about returning to the church building?
  3. Where do older people feature in our church mission and social action plans?
  4. Are we making the most of the older Christians in our church community, many of whom are often wise, godly, faithful, and fervent people of prayer?

Older people are not a homogenous group and, like so many of us, there will be some who are itching to return to in-person church. But those who are anxious or fearful need to know that they are still a crucial part of the church family. So, let’s make every effort to stay in touch with older people in our communities, reassure them that they are loved and valued, and ensure we are doing all we can to provide a space for them if or when they return to our buildings.

Psalm 92 reminds us that older Christians will flourish, and will still bear fruit in old age”. Amen to that, and let’s make space for them to flourish in our churches, however that looks!

[1] https://​www​.ageuk​.org​.uk/​globa…

[2] https://www.churchofengland.or…

[3] https://​www​.ageuk​.org​.uk/​lates…