A Letter from the Vicar
During my nearly 34 years of ministry, I have been allowed Study Leave on one occasion. However, I am about to embark on my second 3 months from May-July. During this time you are meant to enjoy a holiday, receive some spiritual refreshment and renewal, and follow a course of study of my choosing. Several people have asked, “What are you planning to study?”
My chosen area of study is ‘Spirituality in older people’.
Holy Communion in an Old People’s Home
As a young priest on a council housing estate in Southampton, I wanted to get involved in ministry wherever I had the opportunity. The manager of the council-run Old People’s Home invited me to take a monthly Holy Communion service in their lounge area. The first time I turned up at 2pm and the staff member led me to the lounge, turned off the television and left me to it, in a room of 20 or so residents, the majority of whom were suffering from dementia or similar. I proceeded to introduce myself and began a Communion service with congregational responses including “I was watching that programme!” “Who are you?” and “Can you look at my leg please doctor?” Perhaps half of the group were still very sleepy from endless television or effects of their medications.
When we got to the distribution of the bread and wine things began to get interesting. As I approached the individuals with the wine in particular, the residents began to display old habits. The first lady (and they were all ladies bar one man snoring away in the corner) quickly downed the wine and responded, “Thank you Father!” in a broad Irish accent. The second raised her hands to heaven declaring “Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!” The third, an elegant lady with pince-nez glasses, carefully sipped a little wine and, in a whisper, declared “Amen.” After passing by two ladies who were sleeping, another lady sheepishly took the cup and winced as she swallowed the wine. Her expression changed to a smile with the response “That was nice, may I have another.”
I just about got around the rest of the group before there was a knocking on the door, followed by a hearty man bustling into the room, followed by a group of other ladies with a “Sorry Padre but if we don’t start Bingo on time, the day care ladies will miss their bus home!” So, I gathered up my things, to return in a month’s time!
Questions about Spirituality in Older People
These Communion services and many other activities of a ‘spiritual nature,’ along with individual visits to people’s homes, have made me begin to ask a variety of questions.
Do people become more or less spiritual in older age?
Are our earliest spiritual experiences significant with respect to our spirituality in later life?
Does the way we express our spirituality change as we grow older?
How does long-term illness affect our practice of spirituality?
And many more…
As I return in the summer and assimilate my thoughts, I hope to share any pertinent ideas with you that may be helpful to you or your loved ones.