Whether it’s a lift to church or a tasty meal, here are 10 ways that you can support older people in your church congregation to flourish this winter
1) Keep older people in mind
Often, particularly with the busy Christmas season, older people who are less present in the life of church can end up a little in the background. Perhaps this is something they’re comfortable with – all the hustle and bustle of activity is harder to manage as they get older – but it’s best to get in touch rather than assume they are content without much company. Could you commit to checking in on one older person in your community each week? Can you encourage others in your community to do the same? Is there an older person who’d enjoy an hour every few weeks sharing a hobby with you? Can older people feature on your weekly prayers at church?
2) Watch out for the bad weather
With the winter months colder and darker it can be harder for older people to get out and about. Alexandra Drew, the new Lead Officer at Faith in Later Life, reminds us that it doesn’t take much for loneliness to set in. She says, “We only need two cold and rainy Sundays in a row for an older person to find themselves falling out of the rhythm of church life. Make a mental note of older people who aren’t at church and get in touch with them, both to check in on their well-being but also just to make sure they’ve had some conversation and built some relationship each week.”
3) Encourage one another in the faith
For someone who does miss a couple of Sundays or other opportunities for Christian fellowship, the sense of spiritual isolation can come quickly. If you do pop in to see someone after church or in the week, make the most of that time by sharing the faith together. Do also pray together with them, joining together before the Lord.
4) Get beneath the surface
The dark and cold can often have a negative impact on how we’re coping with the world around us and if isolation and loneliness are setting in, this can all deepen for an older person. If you can, take some time to try and understand if an older person isn’t just having to manage the challenges of age but is struggling with low mood or depression.
Our own Louise Morse says, “A helpful question is, ‘When was the last time you felt like this?’ You can be sure that no-one reaches old age without experiencing all manner of setbacks, and the person usually remembers very well. The most helpful question after that is, ‘And what helped you then? What did you do that helped, and what did others do?’ That helps the person lean on their resilience, which they often don’t recognise that they have.”
5) Get them online
While the pandemic was a season none of us wants to re-visit, it did help a generation of older people connect online in a way that many of us would never have predicted. But it can still be tricky for some, especially if it’s just something they do occasionally now. Could you host a Tech Refresher session for older people to come and get back online so that they can still connect with friends and family during the winter months?
6) Support cost of living challenges
We know that the cost of basics like heating and eating are still higher than any of us would like and some older people really struggle to afford all that they need. Can you help them navigate any of the support that they’re entitled to, or help them make changes to keep their homes warmer? Perhaps they are living in a larger house and need some help working out how to keep heating costs down by turning down radiators in unused rooms, or just need to be reminded of the basics of drawing the curtains and tucking them behind the radiators!
7) Cook up a feast
Tasty hot meals can also help both where costs are prohibitive for some older people, but also where depression and low mood are keeping them back from making good healthy food. Bev, our Catering Manager at Middlefields House, has some top tips for great ways to make sure that older people are eating well during the winter months.
“Try to include some protein, carbohydrates, dairy, fruit, and vegetables if possible – variety is the key to getting much-needed vitamins. Presentation is also important, especially when encouraging someone to eat well. When we say, ‘Oh, that looks nice!’, it really motivates us to eat and enjoy the meal. Setting the table nicely can also help and eating meals with others is enjoyable and can encourage appetite. Having tins of custard, evaporated milk and rice pudding in the cupboard is a delicious way to boost much-needed calories.”
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8) Share the knowledge
Often we miss out on things simply because we don’t know what’s available. Is there a way that you can find out all the things that are going on in your local area and make sure that people who would benefit from them will hear about them? Perhaps you could coordinate something to go in your church bulletin (and other local church notices as well), or if you’re a member of any online communities or forums could you share what you know with them?
9) Think daytime
Sally Bates, Associate Minister at Frinton Free Church, oversees a weekly Meals Matter which happens from 4-6pm every Wednesday from November to February and provides a free meal to anyone who comes. They’ve done this during the late afternoon as it means that those who are struggling with heating costs don’t need to turn the heating on as early in the day. This can also be important for those who don’t want to travel once it gets dark (and colder).
Colin Slatter, who is 94, thoroughly enjoyed his meal and said:
"It was brilliant! There was real camaraderie. We sat round tables, had a lovely tea and everyone talked to each other. I can’t believe the church would do such a thing, but they did, and it was brilliant.”
10) Make time for the caregiver
Do you have older people in your congregation who are the main caregiver for another older person, whether that’s a spouse, a friend, or a family member?
Maybe you could go and sit with someone while their caregiver gets a trip to the shops or just some personal time in the home. Or perhaps just committing to phoning the caregiver once a week to keep in touch and find out how they’re doing will be all they need or feel able to accept.
Resources for supporting older people in winter:
• Age UK have guides for understanding care, health and
wellbeing, as well as financial and legal matters
• Faith in Later Life is a hub for Christian resources and ways to minister to older people
• Our Brain and Soul Boosting at Christmas Time resource is useful for engaging older people