‘Over the Hill or Embracing the View?’ Perspectives on Later Life – Keith Albans

Rev Dr Keith Albans explores some ‘items for our AGE-enda to help us work at growing old’

Adapted from a talk given by Keith at our event on 26th April 2022 at Wheeler Hall, Leeds.

Although the mountaineer and the downhill skier share a similar setting for their activities, and have a common objective of reaching the bottom of the mountain safely and in one piece, the shape of those challenges is entirely different. For the climber, reaching the summit’s the primary goal – marked with photographs and smiles, with the bonus of planting a flag or adding a stone to a cairn. On the other hand, the skier’s ascent is merely a means to an end – usually assisted by a cable car or ski-lift – with the main purpose being to get down again as quickly as possible.

Many seem to live with a similar image of the human lifespan, with the first part being concerned with gaining skills, strength and potential, and the second part – literally ‘over the hill’- being spoken of in terms of multiple losses, most notably loss of strength and potential.

Kenneth Howse expressed it like this: “We think of human powers and capabilities as following a parabolic trajectory through the life course: eventually they stop climbing upwards and take a downward turn.” However, as he continues, “If there is a dimension of life which stands apart from this pattern of change, it is the spiritual dimension,” and Richard Rohr’s choice of book title was Falling Upwards: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, the imagery of being over the hill needs closer examination.

For an elite athlete, the progression through their career is likely to have this shape, and for them retirement will be brought on by an inability to perform in the way they once did. Some choose to go out at the top, while others linger into the twilight.

I recall Steve Davis, the former snooker world champion, said he relished the challenge of pitting his skills and experience against the younger opponents making their way in the sport.

He didn’t expect always to win, or even to perform in the way he once had, but instead to discover a new sense of purpose and a new measure of performance.

Later life requires this kind of approach if it’s not simply to be seen as a falling away from what once was.

In 1933 the psychiatrist Carl Jung wrote,

“One cannot live the afternoon of life
according to the program of life’s morning;
for what was great in the morning
will be of little importance in the evening,
and what in the morning was true
will at evening have become a lie.”

Carl Jung

More recently Marie de Hennezel put it like this, “We still have to construct a more positive image of this time of life, confront our fears in order to overcome them, and work out a real policy for preventing unhappy old age. Lastly, it is up to us to combat the denial of old age and death, by working at growing old.”

So if we’re to make the best of the view as we travel ‘over the hill’ what might we put on our spiritual AGEnda that will help us work at growing old?

1. Open-ness – being real

‘Combat the denial of old age and death’ – most advertising to elders majors on denial – by covering up the effects of ageing, or promoting a sense of escapism!

But to best enjoy the view, being real about the stage of life we are at seems fundamental. Recognising that some hopes can no longer be realised – (for instance, I will never open the batting for England !) – does not mean new dreams cannot be envisaged, worked at and experienced…

In addition, encouraging open conversations with those who are accompanying us on our later life journeys is something we can do… It can be hard for family members to come on board – but they can take their lead from us… this can be true especially around end-of-life issues and ‘the will’!

2. Unfinished Business

‘Regrets, I had a few… but then again too few to mention’ – but you just did!

None of us are likely to have got to the period called ‘later life’ without having incurred hurts and sorrows or, equally, without having trodden on a few toes here and there. Of course not everything can be ‘undone’ – but some hurts can be healed – and ‘before it’s too late’ is a helpful watchword.

Unfinished business also includes the things as yet undone… This is the extension of ‘new dreams’ and – to extend the analogy – the task of ‘making new memories’, which is so important. The ‘over the hill journey’ is not just about remembering times past – the journey itself becomes the stuff of memories…For example, at a party for Charlotte’s 110th birthday, she commented that she had not had a passport until she was 100!

3. Encouraging Reflection & Depth

I mentioned Richard Rohr earlier. In his book Falling Upwards he writes this: “while the task of the first half of life is to create a proper container for one’s life, the task of the second half of life is to find the actual contents that this container was meant to hold and deliver.”

It’s another way of saying what Kierkegaard said: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

He also said: “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.”  

Part of experiencing the ‘over the hill’ journey, if it is to be as full an experience as possible, has to include some reflection on what has gone before – that will arise from sorting our unfinished business anyway – but arriving at a sober understanding of what has been – and something of what it has been about – is important. As a Minister in the Methodist Church, I reflect on what it has been about and ask Whither the Church? Whither the Kingdom?
This is reflected somewhat in this quote: “We all dimly feel that our transient historical identity is the only chance in all eternity to be alive as a somebody in a here and a now. We, therefore, dread the possibility, of which we are most aware when deeply young or very old, that at the end we may find that we have lived the wrong life or not really lived at all.” Erik Erikson

4. Landmarks – celebrations/marking them

Some may say ‘Any excuse for a party!’ Marking transitions is important and so is noting the milestones, such as reaching State Retirement age, or having lived 24000 days (as I did a few months ago) or 3 billion seconds (my Mum has recently achieved this). The journey uphill is marked by staging camps and so too is the journey down again, so we should take the time to stop and look around.

5. Intergenerational Community

When I retired I moved to live next door to my grandchildren! Brilliant move! But more than that – having awareness of the generation above and those below is another part of making sense of the ‘over the hill journey’. Being on touch with elders while you can… being available to those below too… It makes the journey a community and a communal event – “it’s not just about me!”

6. Maintaining Connection

In retiring and moving house, I was well aware of the connections that I cut. As a minister some of those were inevitable and right, and in the first few months there were many things which I rightly avoided as I tried to adjust to a new place and a new way of being me.

But maintaining connections in a changing world, a changing church, and a changed location are vital – especially to ward off loneliness, bitterness and a “it wasn’t like this in my day” attitude.

That’s my AGEnda – I am sure there are other things we could add – but the point outlined by Marie de Hennezel is the key – working at growing old, crafting what you can, repairing what you can, making sense of what you can.

I have never found the source of this final quotation – or indeed who Michael Guilford, to whom it is attributed, is! But I’m sure he is/was right.

The only people who are old are those who think
they have learnt all they need to know
and have given up discovering.
For the rest of us, each day reminds us of our ignorance
and needles us towards discovering more,
about ourselves and about life and death.”

Keep being needled – and make the most of the journey!

Rev Dr Keith Albans, April 2022.

‘Over the Hill or Embracing the View?’ Perspectives on Later Life – Pippa Bonner

Pippa Bonner shares insights from her encounters as a Pastoral Worker with older people.

Adapted from a talk given by Pippa at our event on 26th April 2022 at Wheeler Hall, Leeds.

I am an older person (a younger older person, rather than an older, older person,) and a Catholic who retired a few years ago only to hear about a part time job in pastoral care. Now I work offering pastoral care to older women in a Nursing and Care Home. I am a widow with children and grandchildren. I come from a social work background, then moving to hospice work where I coordinated a Bereavement Service. At the same time I worked for a part time Masters Degree in Theology.

You might also like to know that I can knot balloons quickly, have a reasonable serve at tennis, and have found my singing voice improves with age. I dislike housework and gardening but love reading stories to my younger grandchildren.

There is nothing special in any of this because all older people gain experience in all sorts of ways, but I am ‘embracing the view’ of later life. However I have some hearing loss, cataracts and am being investigated for wobbly legs. All of these symptoms make me wonder, am I moving towards being ‘over the hill’ ?

What is special are some of the encounters I have had with older people, (older than me), which illustrate their faith, their wisdom, grace, courage and humour despite their losses, pain, vulnerability and, in some cases, dementia.

‘Models of Ageing’ and Unexpected Encounters

I have encountered great models of ageing as people patiently adjust to a new pain or a decrease in mobility. However, next day they may feel frustrated or anxious.

Older peoples’ situations can vary from day to day. I have learnt about encountering people in the moment and trying to respond in that moment. Some people like structure, planning and appointments, which I honour too, but others no longer do. They want to talk NOW.

I find I often can respond in the moment.
Tomorrow, later in the day, the moment may have passed.

In my parish community I am encouraged and comforted by some of the parishioners in their 90s who come to Mass and other events.  At least three who live alone near the church, walk to Mass using walking frames or sticks. Priests and people come and go but these three represent for me the faith, love, humour, highs and lows, and gritty persistence in the life of the Parish. I know they have bad days too, but they are an inspiration. We all know people like these: strong models of living life, however tough it is (who would be very embarrassed to be described like this!)

I also want to give a few examples that were unexpected gifts for me, of older, older people who may be viewed by some as being over the hill. But are they?

For example, one woman with dementia often has disturbing thoughts some of which are delusional and paranoid. It is distressing for her and those around her.

However, a while ago she said to me, in a clear moment, that when she gets wound up sometimes poetry helps her to unwind. So, I and others read poetry with her for short periods. Sometimes she reads familiar poetry she learned at school.

She also started to fear going out. On a lovely sunny spring afternoon recently, I took her out in a wheelchair. She pointed out to me the bird song and we enjoyed the flowers. We sang songs. One of them was “Row, row, row your boat “and I realised that the walking stick she insisted on clutching in the wheelchair had become the oar of our boat as we travelled past daffodils and even a butterfly in the March sunshine. She soon went back to feeling distressed but she had had some respite from her disturbing thoughts and we saw her transient enjoyment.

Another woman with dementia had lived a contemplative religious life for many years. At the end of her life she was mostly silent but had a wonderful smile. She was an example of one aspiration of older age: “being rather than doing”. Despite her dementia I and many others were aware of her deep spirituality.

One of her favourite expressions before she lost most of her speech (though she would still sing) was “Oh, how lovely!” Sometimes, I would sit with her in silence, holding her hand. I felt so much strength coming from her. It restored me and seemed to comfort her as she smiled.

Similarly, another resident who had advanced dementia had been a very gifted teacher, writer and Spiritual Director. Part of my role in the Care Home is to facilitate a monthly Discussion Group. We were going to be discussing Pope Francis’ document, Laudato Si which is about the world and creation. I had gone with her around the garden.

Suddenly she was praising the flowers and trees around her in a deep reflective, beautiful way. As soon as our walk was over, I wrote down what she had said and added it to the handout we were using. She came to the discussion and saw the piece she had said in the garden.

She joyfully read it aloud then and later in the session she read it again! Everyone was pleased to see a strong glimpse of the previous person they had known. Her joy and the pleasure of the other residents seeing her joy and a reminder of her work was a gift to all of us. 

Embracing the View – with it’s beauty, light and dark patches

It goes without saying that I have also encountered deep pain and distress in my pastoral work. Older people may feel they are encountering numerous losses in their life: bereavement and other losses of health, independence and agency. For some older, older people their lives are punctuated by so many adjustments to new losses (not necessarily deaths), pain and changes in their daily lives that the process of finding some kind of equilibrium can be a recurring challenge.

People usually find that resilience means
not blocking out the emotional pain, but living with it,
and in time, finding altered ways of living.

All of us can listen, support and accompany people at particular times. Compassion is literally about staying “with the passion”, the passing or pain, of the moment.

How can we continue to find hope, faith and perseverance? How can we embrace the view? Those of us who are older may have less physical strength but have life experience to know when we are managing, need some support or where we can continue to support others around us.

Ageing, whether as a younger older person or an older, older person, seems to mean adjusting to new ways of managing how we feel, how we cope and experience new hurdles and happy times, often all at once. We embrace the view with its beauty, light and its dark patches.

The Mass is an important part of many Catholics’ lives, particularly older Catholics. For many people with dementia, Mass remains important in some way. Often the words, rhythms, actions and hymns are recalled and people may join in for a time. One woman sometimes bursts into tears when the words of Jesus’ death are mentioned, but she can also become loudly ecstatic at the consecration. These are unfiltered, undiluted responses which teach us all to value what is happening. We should be grief stricken or ecstatic at the same moments, but repetition and an adult sense of decorum can get in the way.

Growing Old Grace-fully became aware during the Covid lockdown how some older people preferred watching Mass or other church services online. People could choose a priest or church or time that suited them, and could participate from a comfortable, familiar armchair rather than journey to church. Some could hear the homily better. Growing Old Grace-fully hope that some streamed Masses will continue.

So, are we or others embracing the view or over the hill? I think we can only answer for ourselves.

I have often noticed that people who society might deem
as being “over the hill”, appear to me as having moments
of great understanding, wisdom, joy and vision.

Pippa finished her talk by reciting this poem:

Taking Communion to Jennifer by Fr Michael McCarthy
From his collection of poems ‘The Bright Room’ published in 2018.  

I find her in good form. 
We chat awhile, then move on to pray. 
As we make our way through the Our Father 
I sense a presence in the space behind me. 
Concentrating on the moment, I continue: 
Lord I am not worthy that you should enter 
Under my roof…As she receives the host 
A warm breath caresses the back of my neck. 
Turning, I see an elderly resident in slippers 
Her face stricken. A single sob escapes from her. 
Placing a hand on her forehead I say the blessing. 
Her full-on smile radiates down the length of my arm
Something is unlocked in us.

Pippa Bonner, April 2022

‘Over the Hill or Embracing the View?’ Perspectives on Later Life – Helen Reid

Dr Helen Reid (Leeds Church Institute) shares thoughts on the older generation as a ‘pivot generation’

Adapted from a talk given by Helen at our event on 26th April 2022.

Simeon and Anna in the temple

Here we have an example of people in older age who experienced fulfilment in later life. They had always lived lives of service but it was very much in their later years all that they hoped for came to pass. They always had a vision for serving God, but it wasn’t (only) about serving themselves, more broadly the people of Isarel. Here is an image of people in later life ‘embracing the view’.

I would like to pursue what ‘embracing the view’ might look like in Leeds 2022.

I will draw on the work of Ann Morisy, a Community Theologian who is now retired, and particularly on her book “Borrowing from the future” where she talks about her generation – the so called baby boomers (who of course count as youngsters to the pre-war generation). Ann Morisy writes about the older generation being a pivot generation. For Anna and Simeon it was their generation which pivoted because that was when Christ entered the world.

In our different context, what is our pivot point and what are we doing about it?

We face critical questions in our time right now because we are living in ways that are not sustainable. We have had decades of growing consumption and the pursuit of personal fulfilment, and we can’t keep up the pace as we are borrowing from the future.

We do know that our lifestyle isn’t sustainable in ecological terms – we are storing up problems that future generations
will have to contend with.

In addition, we have a pension system and social care system that relies on present contributions being made at every higher levels. Young and old are under pressure and we know that households most likely to be living in poverty are young families.

We are in a really serious position as a society and as a global population – how can the older generation be a pivot generation?

Against this background, we can look honestly at the question of ‘What is the purpose of old age?’ IF we look at the natural world, no other species has females living for decades after they can no longer produce the next generation. This has evolved for a reason.

A practical aspect is the contribution that the older generation make to raising the younger generation as they grow and emotionally supporting the middle generation as they work, create and build. I am sure that many of you here today are actively involved in this practical aspect of life. And increasing good health and people having children later in life has altered when ‘old age’ begins.

However, there is another ‘non-practical element that it is worth exploring. The psychologist Piaget identified stages of development from childhood to adulthood as we grow in conscious thought and can plan for the future and work out how to approach tasks and achieve objectives. But there is perhaps a further stage of development when we can live with contradiction and nuance; live with the things that don’t immediately make sense or are contradictory. To find a way to live well with that, to be integrated, in the terminology used in the title of our meeting – when we ’embrace the view’. This is surely a key purpose of older age too – that we can appreciate the importance of context, the relativism of knowledge and how to apply common sense in tricky situations. Of course this is traditionally called wisdom.

So perhaps instead of attempting to extend the middle stage of ‘adulthood’ for as long as possible (60 is the new 40 and so on),a pivot generation can step forward into the age and stage of wisdom without too much regret at leaving behind the so called ‘generative’ stage of adulthood. And what is more – that this isn’t just for themselves, but because it enables people to offer into our society what is so much needed.

A wisdom to challenge the ever increasing consumption that is no good for the planet, no good for the mental health of the younger generations caught up in advertising and having to live ‘amazing lives in their perfect homes with all the tech’ – and failing.

We are living psychologically beyond our means because we believe in limitless self-expansion.

Bringing compassionate wisdom to our current cultural climate at a time in life when people are less inhibited by ‘what people think’; when people can have a greater ability to live in the moment’ (older people do admittedly talk a lot about the past – but not as much as younger people focus on the future); when people are confident enough to acknowledge dependencies and needs – and our interdependencies.

Older age is a time when people are well placed to actively seek to foster an interest in ‘higher’ things and concern for others.

Developing greater abilities to live with uncertainty, relationality and connectedness. What is sometimes called Spiritual Capital – and much needed in our society facing economic and ecological challenges.

So if that is the purpose of older age – what is the purpose of faith in this? To live well in the light of an economy where those most in poverty are young working families – and in the light of climate catastrophe, is surely to live for others. Not passing on the problems to unborn generations, but acting now.

Faith communities have a long tradition of helping people to live with an awareness of others.  But we have to be aware there has been a time (and for some it continues) when the Church has alienated many older people; at a time when it judged people for being divorced or gay, for example. When people felt the high standards demanded of people were demanded in a way they experienced as emotionally abusive. And that this happened at a time when society at large was opening up to people seeking personal fulfilment, allowing freedoms for single women to look after their babies; for gay people to live an integrated life.

So Ann Morisy calls for second chance theology – that older people give the church another chance. That the Church needs to witness to its greater humility, greater recognition of personal fulfilment as part of God’s plan for people. That the church needs to perhaps talk more about struggle than sin. Still recognising what Jesus achieved on the cross for our salvation. An emphasis on the fact that Jesus was showing us a way to live.

That we are called and resourced by God to live with compassionate intention – and to work out with wisdom what it means to live with compassionate intention in Leeds today.

So, the church needs to be invigorated in its mission among older people. We talk about youth work as the church of the future – well mission among older people is also about the church of the future. In the struggle against consumption, the idea that money is the answer to everything, that we should expect things to always be getting better. Being honest enough to face the fact that over-consumption means that other people have less, including the generations we don’t yet know.

So older people have, with faith, the capacity – the Spiritual Capital – the compassionate intention – to be dissenters in the progress of greater consumption, vital for future generations.

That is the view that we are embracing: It isn’t just a pretty view from the top of a hill in the countryside – it is an honest view of the challenges of our society, the role of faith in that – and a calling to purpose for those in later life – to bring to the situation that which is gifted to them at this later stage of life, to be the pivot generation.

I would recommend Ann Morisy’s book as a way to look at what that might mean in practical and campaigning terms. And I recommend the image of Anna and Simeon as inspiration for embracing the view.

Helen Reid, April 2022

Over the Hill or Embracing the View? Perspectives on Later Life – Gaynor Hammond

A short personal reflection by Gaynor Hammond

Adapted from the Closing Reflection given by Gaynor at our event on 26th April 2022.

When I think about old age, it is still – somewhere over there!!

Till I get my aches and pains, or I hit a brick wall and occasionally the realisation hits that actually I have probably reached it!!

But it can be so hard to accept!

My mind often goes back to the point in my life when I retired from my posts as Regional Tutor for Northern Baptist College and Associate Minister of a large church in Leeds, I was 67 years old.

I decided to join a church near home where I felt I could belong.
I approached the minister of a local church to talk about becoming a member.

The minister was really pleased and said that he knew which House Group would be just right for me. It was in the afternoon because it was for the ‘older ladies.’ It was run by a man we shall call Fred and the group was called ‘Fred’s lovely ladies’ I was assured that they loved it – and I would too!  I thought to myself. “Does he know who I am!’ He Did!! Well he didn’t know me very well because he would have known I am not a ‘lovely lady’!!!!

But is that how he now saw me? – an old lady? Well I suppose I was – but!!

Needless to say I didn’t join! But that experience made me wonder if this was the beginning of my decline!

In contrast, at the age of 70, I was ecstatic to be called back into ministry – I felt like Moses!! I was called to be minister of Hope Baptist Church at Hebden Bridge – which I did for nearly 3 years – until a heart condition forced me to lay it down, which literally broke my heart, there was so much left for me to do!!

Where did that leave me? Back in decline? Only God knows.

3 years later and 3 blue light trips to A&E I’m still standing!

I now belong to a little church who don’t ask too much of me but often ask me: ‘Can we just run this past you?… Can you just take a look at this?… Would you just help us with this…?’
So it feels like I am not quite in decline, just on a different stage of the journey. Being offered a different way to serve.

We each have our own story.

What can we say? God hasn’t finished with us yet? And who knows what the future will bring? Maybe part of the wisdom that comes with maturity is the knowledge that we cannot do it all! And actually we never could!

Perhaps aging helps us to get it all in perspective and realise that the work we have done – and the work we still have to do – however small and insignificant it seems, is God’s – what happens to it is in God’s hands not ours.

I would like us to finish by reflecting on some words by Oscar Romero, which I think are so fitting for us today.

It helps now and then to step back and take the long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.

We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted knowing they hold future promise.
We lay down foundations that will need further development far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realising that.
This enables us to do something and do it very well.

It may be incomplete, a step along the way, an opportunity for God’s grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.

Oscar Romero

So whatever stage of life we are at, what a privilege to be a part – even a small part – of building God’s kingdom here on earth – because there is still an adventure to be had – and God hasn’t finished with us yet!

Blessing from the Northumbria Community

'May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you, 
Wherever he may send you
May he guide you through the wilderness, 
Protect you through the storm
May he bring you home rejoicing 
At the wonders he has shown you
May he bring you home rejoicing 
Once again into our doors.'

Gaynor Hammond, April 2022

‘The Tears of Things’ – A Prayer inspired by the 8th Station of the Cross

A poignant poem/prayer written and kindly shared by Sr Kate Holmstrom SHCJ.

Art by Theophile Lybaert

“Weep not for me, but for your children.”
We are the women of Jerusalem.
We were standing by the Way of the Cross.
But we weep both for you, dear Lord,
And for our children.
We weep for all the sorrows of the world.

Photo by Kat J on Unsplash

‘We are the women of Ukraine.
We weep for our husbands who embraced us so tenderly,
Bidding us goodbye
as they stayed on to fight,
While we cowered in dark basements
Or struggled to escape to freedom,
Facing an unknown, frightening future,
Encouraging our little ones,
traumatised and fearful.’

‘We weep for our lost, premature babies
As others weep for their own, miscarried children
Or for themselves when they chose to abort
In a tragic miscarriage of judgement and despair.’

‘We are the women of Russia.
Our sons and sweethearts did not go willingly (fed by lies and false promises)
To bomb and kill people just like themselves, ourselves.
We grieve for them all
– whether living or dead.
We cry out in desperation …
but to what avail?’
‘We are the women of Afghanistan
Stripped of our future and condemned to silence.’

Art by Christos Magganas

‘We are the women of starving countries
Depriving ourselves of a morsel of bread to feed another.’

‘We are the women, old, cold or sick,
Haunted by nightmares of bills and debt.’

‘We are the women raped, beaten, abused
As we shudder and whimper, powerless and vanquished.’

‘You too wept,
Jesus of the tender heart,
Were overcome by the sorrow
at the death of Lazarus
And the destruction of Jerusalem, foretold.’  

‘Yes, Lord, still we weep for you
And we weep for all the children of misfortune.  
Mother of Sorrows – in our affliction we turn to you.
Tortured Lord – in your mercy, hear our prayers.’

Crying Women by Mikuláš Galanda

Happy Easter! – some resources for you

We hope you will enjoy a meaningful and joyous time this Easter, perhaps more able to join with your local community in person than the last two years. Here are some additional resources online for your enrichment.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Leeds Cathedral at Easter

You can join in with the Masses and services at the Cathedral online or in person.
You can see what is coming up on this link:
Leeds Cathedral upcoming livestreams Youtube
Or see past livestreams on this link:
Leeds Cathedral past livestreams

Bishop’s Conference website resources

See THIS PAGE for articles on the Art of Holy Week, video reflections on the Stations of the Cross and more.

Ignatian Spirituality

Listen to audio reflections as online retreats for Lent and Easter HERE.

‘Over the Hill or Embracing the View?’ A series of events on Perspectives on Later Life

Later Life – what is your perspective?

Is it a decline or an ascent, a blessing or a burden, or a mixture of both? How do we face and embrace both the challenges and the joys in the context of our ongoing spiritual journey? How do we support those around us to do the same?

We would love to see you
at any or all of our partnership events on Later Life.
Click on the links below to book your place:

1. ‘Over the Hill or Embracing the View? Perspectives on Later Life’.

Tuesday 26th April 12 noon at Wheeler Hall, Leeds (next to St Anne’s Cathedral).
Enjoy a lovely lunch followed by a panel of speakers and time for questions and discussion. (In partnership with Leeds Church Institute).

2.Jubilee Tea Party and Celebrating Later Life! (The Briery, Ilkley)

Sunday 12th June 3.00pm at The Briery Retreat Centre, Ilkley
The Briery kitchen will cook up a lovely spread for a tea party celebrating our Queen, and we will reflect on the joys and opportunities of later life for us all. There is a suggested offering of £10 per head. Please ring 01943 607287 to book and pay. (In partnership with The Briery Retreat Centre).

3. Jubilee Tea Party and Celebrating Later Life! (Wheeler Hall)’

Thursday 16th June 2.30pm at Wheeler Hall, Leeds.
Join us for a tea party celebrating our Queen and reflecting on the joys and opportunities of later life for us all. A Donations Box will be available on the day. (In partnership with Leeds Church Institute).

4. Losses and Later Lifehow do we face changes in our later years.

Tuesday 12th July 2.30pm Online (Tbc)
A discussion event reflecting on how we face and make sense of changes and diminishment in our later years.
(In partnership with Leeds Church Institute).

The State of Ageing 2022 – important report from The Centre for Ageing Better

‘The State of Ageing in England is getting worse’

The Centre for Ageing Better has pulled together extensive data in this recent important report. They have made the information very easy to access with the summary and all sections presented online with lots of graphs and explanation – see HERE.

Here are some headline findings from an article on their website.

‘Today there are almost 11 million people aged 65 and over – 19% of the total population. In 10 years’ time, this will have increased to almost 13 million people or 22% of the population.’

‘As our comprehensive review of national data on ageing makes clear, a financially secure and healthy later life is becoming increasingly unlikely for millions of people.’

‘And, with the population ageing rapidly, the number of people at risk is growing at an alarming rate. The latest data shows a sharp increase in pensioner poverty meaning that almost 1 in 5, some 2 million people of pension age, are now living in poverty.’

‘We have also seen a reduction in our life expectancy (of 0.3 years for women and 0.4 years for men). Meanwhile, the number of years we can expect to spend in good health, without a disabling illness, continues to decline; this is now  62.4 years for men and 60.9 years for women.’

The State of Ageing 2022 has five chapters: Health, Homes, Work, Communities and a chapter setting out the context in which we are ageing. It looks at data from a wide range of sources such as the English Housing Survey, the GP Patient survey, the Health Survey for England and the Community Life Survey, as well as a host of official statistics from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and government sources such as the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities and the Department for Work and Pensions.’

‘Ultimately it shows that the experience of being older in England is getting considerably worse for many.’ 

‘While we make recommendations for action under each chapter, our overall recommendation is that government appoints an Older People’s Commissioner for England to protect and promote the rights of older people and to help make England a better place to grow old in. In line with the existing Older People’s Commissioners in Wales and Northern Ireland, this role would champion the needs of older people, particularly those at greatest risk, and safeguard all our journeys into later life.’

Pastoral Worker for Older people – seed funding to start a role in 2 parishes

With many people living longer and the current demographic of our churches, you are probably finding that the needs of older people in your parish are increasing.

Many parishioners go out of their way to help others as much as they can, and SVP and other groups are an essential support to many older people. These informal and formal networks of love and inclusion work well in many situations. However, with the increased need, the effects of the pandemic, and the fact that some of those volunteering are themselves feeling vulnerable, resources are stretched and some older people are at risk of slipping through the net or becoming disconnected.

Walking with Older People in their Journey through Later Life

In response to this need, Growing Old Grace-fully approached funders with an idea for a Pastoral Worker/Lay Chaplain for Older People role, to see if it could be trialled in some parishes in the Diocese of Leeds.

The Ladies of the Grail caught the vision for this demonstration project and generously awarded some seed funding to be used in our Diocese.

What would a Pastoral Worker/Lay Chaplain do?

In partnership with the Parish Priest and Eucharistic Ministers, and working closely with relevant parish groups such as the SVP, a Lay Chaplain’s role would be to be an important point of contact for older people in the parish (as well as their families and carers) particularly in terms of their spiritual and emotional life, but with a whole-life approach.

They would use a person-centred listening approach with warmth, compassion, humour and mutual respect, enabling older people to:

  • be strengthened on their journey
  • be more connected and included in parish life
  • have their contributions valued
  • access support for practical needs.

We have seed funding to help 2 parishes set up and test this model with someone fulfilling this role a few hours a week.

We are now seeking expressions of interest from parishes in the Diocese and have recently sent information about this to all priests through the Ad Clerum.

If you are interested in this idea and feel your parish could benefit from this scheme, we would encourage you to speak with your priest and others in the parish to explore the possibilities, and then contact us (see below).


If you have any queries, please do contact our Development Officer Rhoda Wu on growing.old.gracefully@dioceseofleeds.org.uk, she will be happy to help.

The Synodal Process – a response from Growing Old Grace-fully

As well as being involved in each of our parishes, the trustees of Growing Old Grace-fully wanted to highlight the voice and needs of older people in this listening process.

A group of the board members got together and drew up a response on the relevant topics in the framework, this is what we submitted:

Growing Old Grace-fully – response to the Synod listening exercise in the Diocese of Leeds

Growing Old Grace-fully is an independent charity based in the Diocese of Leeds and have been working in the diocese for over 10 years.

Our aim is to:

To enhance the spiritual, emotional, and physical wellbeing of older people across the Catholic Diocese of Leeds through raising awareness, inspiring and supporting responsive action in parishes.

We are making a separate submission based on our substantial experience of listening to older people in our parishes.

The term ‘older people’ covers a very wide age range and several life stages: in our society, younger older people (60+) may enjoy (depending on their life chances) 20 years or so of active life with good health, when they will volunteer in their community including the parish, provide childcare for grandchildren and may be supporting older relatives and friends, at the same time. For many, this will be followed by a period of declining health when support from family or agencies is needed before death.

Longer life is a great blessing for individuals and families and for wider society but the later stages of life present challenges to the individual, to those who love them and to wider society, as health declines and the need for support and care increases.  Life expectancy is increasing in most countries in the world and different issues arise depending on the relative proportions in the population of younger and older people.

Longer life expectancy – a sign of our time – needs to be pondered to discern what God is saying to us and how we should respond. A theme of Growing Old Grace-fully’s work is the vocation of later life: ‘Called to be Old’.

(Another feature of our time is the decrease in the number of priests and religious in the local church, many of whom are themselves older people. How can we ensure that they continue to be included, supported and able to contribute their wisdom and experience?)

Who are our journey companions and who is marginalised?

Older people often have a wide network of friends in the parish whom they have known over many years and take for granted that these people are their companions in life and in faith. There may not be explicit faith sharing unless people belong to a group which prays, reflects and acts together but there is an implicit bond.

As friends die and perhaps the composition of the parish changes, older people are likely to feel more isolated. If they become housebound, they are likely to lack companions on their faith journey especially if their family members have lost connection with Church.

If people go into a care home, they may become completely cut off from their worshipping community and from the support of the sacraments.

We need (formal and informal) ways to follow up people who ‘disappear’ to find out if they wish to stay in touch with the parish and what support they would like. Quaker meetings appoint members to roles of responsibility – overseers – for a given term: 2 periods of 3 years. Their ‘task is building a community in which all members find acceptance, loving care and opportunities for service.’  Other denominations have ‘pastoral stewards’ and of course often in parishes the SVP can play this role.

We have developed a specific model to formally ensure a more systematic approach to ensuring that our older people are still included in parish life.

A Lay Chaplaincy for Older People in parishes and/or deaneries would fulfill this role. The chaplain will be there to provide a listening presence, companionship, and one-to-one pastoral support for older people in a parish. Their person-centred approach will help them deliver support with warmth, compassion, humour, mutual respect, strength, and hope, aiming to inspire and provide stimulation. More specifically, working closely with relevant parish groups such as the SVP and supported by the Parish Priest, the Lay Chaplain’s role will be to help get to know older people in the parish and particularly those who have mobility issues or other conditions that make them at risk of being isolated.  The Chaplain will be the first port of call for ministering to older people in the parish, particularly at times when sustained spiritual support is most needed.  They will be able to inform the priest when and if sacramental care is needed.  If appropriate and possible, the Chaplain will aim to build a group of volunteers to help to support the work. (we have a small amount of funding to pilot this model).

NOTE: Read more about this model HERE

Listening and speaking out, how might the RC church listen to lay people, women and minorities and those who are not respected?

This question is framed in a way that reveals an underlying assumption that lay folk are not ‘church’.  We believe that ‘we’ are the Church.

Housebound older people and those in care homes are a marginalised group without a voice. Older people have expressed concern that church concentrates on young people and ignores the needs of older members.

In 2018 we asked some of our supporters about their experience of parish life, this reinforced our concern that there is too much reliance on informal connections and that older and other vulnerable people slip through the net and become marginalised.

They also said that church stands out as a place where generations mix at Mass, but there’s less evidence of more structured opportunities for support/learning.

Programmes addressing the spirituality of ageing or taking ageing seriously are not available.

There are not enough structured programmes to help support people in bereavement, or anything specific that helps people cope with the varied losses that can come with long life.

Listening and speaking out are interdependent: people speak out when they are listened to; otherwise they won’t bother. Intergenerational structures are needed through which people can express their needs, share their insights, listen to the experience of others, and discern how they can contribute and work together for the common good of church and world. (see later response)

Older people have a wisdom, experience and skills that they can share, whether developed from their working life or through being part of the parish community.  We hope that their experience of listening, dialogue, creating and celebrating liturgies, experiencing lay leadership and years of co-responsibility in different ways in their parishes and dioceses, and navigating change in the past will be valued as we journey through the synod process.


The closure of churches in the early part of the pandemic opened opportunities for us to experience liturgies celebrated across the world as well as locally, provided that we are digitally enabled. Some older people who have participated in on-line liturgies would like them to continue; this would be a boon for housebound people as well as those who still do not feel confident about returning to a crowded church.

However, we recognise that most people want to be part of a community that is physically present to each other, for the social interaction as well as celebrating Mass together.

We also need to be aware that some older people are not digitally confident and may feel excluded by too much reliance on online participation

(Some) Older people have also expressed a wish for occasional community celebrations of the Sacrament of the Sick and Reconciliation.

Co-responsibility in mission

The experience of Growing Old Gracefully is that as well as those older people who need additional support, many older people are active in their parishes, taking on a range of tasks and running parish groups. They and others may also be active in and/or leading local action: supporting asylum seekers and refugees, homeless people, food banks, isolated older people, looking after vulnerable neighbours, contributing their time, energy and skills (and money) to charities caring for the vulnerable and to campaigns for justice such as development in the global South, combating the climate crisis and many other good causes. They may see these actions as being part of being good citizens; they may know that their involvement springs from their faith and love of neighbour and is part of the Church’s mission. This involvement needs to be recognised and affirmed.

Dialogue between the generations

Pope Francis’ message for World Peace Day 2022, outlined three paths for building lasting peace. One was the “dialogue between generations as the basis for the realisation of shared projects.”

He noted dialogue demands trust between people who need to listen to one another, share different views, reach agreement and walk together. This he says is especially important between generations: “between the keepers of memory – the elderly – and those who move history forward – the young.”

The Pope’s words can apply to international, national and local groups. Within dioceses and parishes who are rebuilding activity after periods of Covid lockdown, different generations are working and praying together, listening to each other and moving forward together. Inter-generational working is key for our religious organisations and churches as we journey through Covid, towards the Synod and beyond.

Some examples of intergenerational dialogue include

  • the older person mentoring younger people in ways of serving their parish. The list can be endless but includes parish ministries, liturgy, prayer groups, and other parish groups and activities. Many older people have experience of lay leadership and co-responsibility with the clergy and are often willing to encourage others to gain confidence and experience as “they pass on the baton.”. 
  • One older parishioner has become friendly with a mother who has spirited young children. She affirms the mother, sits with the family at Mass and helps the mother take them up for a Blessing at Communion. She also lights up the room at parish coffee time. This example will be replicated elsewhere.
  •  Some older people are prayer sponsors, take an interest in younger people and model strength, determination, and humour.
  • Other older parishioners accept help from younger people, accept lifts home and older people also offer lifts to those younger than themselves! At a parish exhibition of photos and reminiscences from past wars older people participated with reminiscences from previous generations about war experiences and helped younger people to hear about the effects of war on local people.

This contribution is based on our work of listening and responding as older people with other older people in the diocese over the last 10 years and we hope that it highlights the gifts that older people bring to the Church and to the needs of the most marginalised.