Celebration of Ageing and Faith 2011
In the autumn of 2011 Mayfield Salisbury organised a Celebration of Ageing and Faith. Advised by some of our older members, a programme was drawn up through which we could explore the theme of well-being as we age. We also consulted Faith in Older People (FiOP), an organisation which works to realize the spiritual care of older people by providing training courses, mentoring, events and publications for churches, care homes, health care staff and individuals. FiOP defines spiritual care as ‘developing an understanding of what gives meaning to people’s lives’.
Thus the autumn of 2011 became a special time at Mayfield Salisbury: a time full of fun, celebration and worship, with a whole series of inter-related events. Some of these events encouraged physical activity, some learning new skills, some were cross-generational, some centred specifically on spiritual growth, all involved fellowship.
It began on a sunny afternoon in late August, when, with a piper playing, ‘Pimms’ to hand, parasols and panamas aloft, more than 50 older members, their friends and relations, met for the opening Garden Party. As each new arrival came out on to the steps of the hall and surveyed the colourful scene of gazebos and balloons below, the delight increased: old friends were re-united, new friends were made. In the hall itself the tables were set for afternoon tea, complete with posies of flowers, tiny sandwiches and delicious home made cakes. All was conviviality and conversation as news was exchanged and memories shared. As one guest said ‘It was a real party, all we had to do was come: a proper guest, no payment and no responsibility!’
Another event was the Conference organised by the Kirk Session and held on October 1, Older Peoples’ Day. Here we were privileged to hear two leading academics in the field. First, John Starr, Professor of Ageing and Health at the University of Edinburgh and Consultant in Geriatric Medicine with NHS Lothian provided an engaging overview of ageing and health today, and referred to two very relevant studies of the church-going practice of people born in 1921 and 1936. Then, with the scene set, Dr Harriet Mowat, a previous deputy director of the Centre for Gerontology and Health Studies at Paisley University, unpacked some of the current research and helped us to look at the implications for us as a church: as Kirk Session, congregation and community, and the practical responses we might make. After a break for coffee and chat, in a second session the spiritual dimension was addressed, particularly how to explore spiritual needs and achieve balanced lives as we age. As expected, a lengthy list of ideas and proposals emerged from the final plenary feedback which our Research Committee later reviewed and included in its strategic planning. One of the outcomes has been the production of a CD of favourite hymns sung by our choir which we have made available for use at services of worship in, for example, care homes. Details of this can be found here.
What of the other events? Here are a few examples: the Joint Bulb Planting with some of our youngest and oldest worshippers, who then waited anxiously until the spring and the display of tulips; the Technology Evening when older members met with ‘20-somethings’ for a bit of mobile phone practice and know-how; the Tea Dance complete with waltzing couples, delicious cakes, and many memories of youthful outings to the city’s once thriving dance halls! Exercise and reminiscences were again the order of the day on the morning we met for Street Games & Rhymes. So what did you call ‘paldies’ where you grew up? And were there really that many versions of ‘In and out the dusty bluebells’? The talk was all of ‘jeelie babbies’, and ‘jammy dodgers’, ‘waggon wheels’ and’ sweetie ciggies’, and meeting round the back of the Kirk for a quiet puff!
Interspersed with these more vigorous activities were gentler moments such as the morning gathering to which all brought a piece of Craft Work that had languished unfinished in a drawer for far too long! Sitting knitting or stitching is a wonderful excuse for a chat, and this group has in fact become a regular feature. Now calling itself Craft Moments, it meets on Thursdays, fortnightly. But there was nothing quiet about the evening of Supper and Song with George Ross, ably supported by Susan Wooding on the piano, when people gathered in the upper hall for a delicious supoper followed by a sing-song.
There were also several memorable worship occasions. Very special was the Afternoon Service when the upper hall was packed to capacity with more than 60 sitting at the tables. It was led by our minister, Revd. Scott McKenna, favourite hymns were accompanied by Dr John Willmett on the piano and the address was given by the priest and writer, Fr. Gerry Hughes SJ: an address full of gentle humour. For example, on asking a centenarian what advantages were there in living to be very old, Gerry Hughes received the reply ‘I am no longer subject to peer pressure’! Afterwards the tea and cakes were much appreciated, as was the chance to have a chat with old friends and acquaintances by those who do not always manage to leave their homes very often.
Sunday servcies were special too. On Sunday, September 25, our guest was Revd. Ali Newell, a Church of Scotland Minister who works at the Ignatius Centre of Spirituality in Glasgow. Her theme was ‘Keeping the Spirit Alive’ which centred on how, as a church and as a society, we can work towards valuing older people more fully, especially those who have entered that ‘fourth age’ when physical or mental disability may require special understanding and love. Her sermon can be listened to here.
On Sunday, October 2, we welcomed Mary Moffett, the training coordinator for Faith in Older People (FiOP) and support worker with elderly people at St Cuthbert’s, Colinton, who, drawing our attention to the work of Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche Communities, spoke about how older people, especially those who may no longer be able to participate fully in church life, are indispensible to the body of the Church. Her sermon can be listened to here.
Then on Sunday 30 October, All Saints Sunday, our minister, Revd Scott McKenna, brought our Celebration to a close. His sermon can be listened to here. To quote a few of his closing lines: ‘Our Celebration of Ageing and Faith has been particularly important because it has been counter-cultural. Our culture idolizes youth, youthful beauty, physical activity and action, while spiritual growth and maturity, at least in many cases, belong to the third and fourth age. The Sunday for All Saints is perhaps the ideal Sunday on which to close.'
As the introduction to the programme for all these events put it: ‘Because we are church with old people in our midst we are a church rich in experience, faith and lifetimes of service, and we want to acknowledge that and celebrate the wisdom, talents, knowledge, energy and vitality of our older members’. Our aim was thus to share, across the generations, thoughts and ideas about meaning and purpose in our lives, work towards a better understanding of why faith matters, and that the need to develop spirituality is not something that stops as we get older. From the many expressions of thanks and praise voiced, this aim was amply fulfilled.