Ministers Message – The Joys and Challenges of Ageing

Ministers Message – The Joys and Challenges of Ageing

Many of you think that I am not ‘old’. Someone even called me a ‘spring chicken’. When I heard that I couldn’t help but laugh, I know I am certainly not a ‘chicken’ and at my age, I can’t ‘spring’ as easily as before. However, many of my friends think I don’t look my age. I hope they are not humouring me. Truth is I am learning to age gracefully and joyfully.

One of my main focuses, when I was placed with Manningham Uniting Church more than three years ago, is a ministry with senior adults. It has been a privilege and challenge.

The Future
We know people worldwide are living longer. Today most people can expect to live into their seventies and beyond. Every country in the world is experiencing growth in both the size and the proportion of older persons in the population.

By 2030, 1 in 6 people in the world will be aged 60 years or over. At that time the share of the population aged 60 years and over will increase from 1 billion in 2020 to 1.4 billion. By 2050, the world’s population of people aged 60 years and older will double (2.1 billion). The number of persons aged 80 years or older is expected to triple between 2020 and 2050 to reach 426 million.

Australia is getting older, faster. By 2026, more than 22 per cent of Australians will be aged over 65 — up from 16 per cent in 2020, which was already double the 8.3 per cent at the start of the 1970s.

This demographic change is partly due to the baby boom of the 1950s and 1960s and a falling birth rate, but it’s underpinned by something positive: Australians are living on average 30 years longer than they were a century ago.

Ageing Gracefully and Joyfully
Ageing is inevitable, so why not do it gracefully and joyfully? ‘Ageing gracefully’ entails walking a tightrope between a youth-obsessed society, which tells us that our value declines as we age, and a culture that says nothing is as uncool as desperation, the fervent desire for something we can’t have. Marketers stoke our desire for youthfulness as the ticket to remaining relevant, then shame us when our efforts to preserve that youth go awry.

What if instead of seeing ageing as something to defeat and conquer, we were to embrace what gets better with age, and work to amplify these joys while mitigating the losses of youth? I’m not suggesting we paper over the very real challenges, both physical and mental, that come with ageing. But can we view these challenges without judgment or shame and instead look for joyful ways to navigate them?

The Joy of Ageing
I like this poem. It resonates deeply within me. Michael C Jones writes:
Enjoy ageing and see the beauty of the universe.
After all, getting older is a gift, look among you.
You only die when you cease to live!
God created all humankind
for our good and His glory!
Next to our Lord & Saviour.
How could you treat one of the greatest
gifts in the universe so shallow.
Getting old is a process,
not a death sentence!
There is still Joy, amazement,
and wonder out there.
We can’t forget beauty, that’s you!

Personal Challenges of Ageing
I want to highlight a few things that we need to be aware of as we age. The list won’t be complete. Most of you are probably aware of them.

Ageism and a lost sense of purpose:
There are lots of outdated stereotypes about elderly people, which can lead to isolation and marginalisation in a lot of communities. By coming up with innovative ways to involve older people in the (church) community, we can not only help them maintain a sense of identity and self-esteem but also tap into the wealth of knowledge and experience they have, which is so vital for the flourishing and thriving of the community.

I am aware that contributing to the life of the congregation and wider community provides a sense of purpose for many members of MUC.

Financial Insecurity:
While we are living longer, unfortunately, the world of employment and retirement has not evolved at the same pace. Many elderly people are able and more than willing to work past the standard retirement age, but the opportunities are not there. In addition, managing day-to-day finances and planning for later life can be challenging for older generations as much is now done online or remotely. This can also leave them more vulnerable to fraud and scams.

We are a middle and upper-class congregation. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t members who are not as well-off. Let’s be aware.

Health Issues:
It’s inevitable that as we age health issues will arise. A person’s mobility and dexterity will naturally decline as they age, which makes completing everyday tasks more difficult including self-care. This can gradually lead to a decline in socialising, pursuing interests, or taking part in activities they enjoy. More support is needed to enable elderly people not only to live independently through products and programs that focus on safety, balance, fitness, and mobility but also to ensure they can continue to thrive as individuals.

According to WHO, common conditions in older age include hearing loss, cataracts, refractive errors, back and neck pain and osteoarthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, depression, and dementia. As people age, they are more likely to experience several conditions at the same time.

Older age is also characterized by the emergence of several complex health states commonly called geriatric syndromes. They are often the consequence of multiple underlying factors and include frailty, urinary incontinence, falls, delirium and pressure ulcers.

End-of-life preparations:
We all need to prepare for the inevitable, but death is often a difficult topic for people to discuss or make plans for. Elderly individuals and their families need support when considering the end-of-life options available, financial implications, and how to ensure that the individual’s wishes are respected.

Families need help navigating end-of-life options, having difficult conversations, and ensuring that end-of-life wishes are met. Soon I will be sending you some information to encourage you to initiate conversations on what you wish to happen when the day comes.

Ageing Congregation: Challenges Ahead for MUC
Like many congregations within the Uniting Church in Australia, we are ageing and declining. We all know that, but it seems nothing much can be done. Some even think that’s not an important issue to address as a congregation. Let’s face it the decline and ageing membership have immediate and future challenges.
It’s heartening to see a high percentage of our seniors are contributing at MUC. The truth is if all the seniors within MUC stopped contributing now, we would be in trouble. As the congregation continues to age the pool becomes smaller and smaller.

In the next five to ten years, we will have not have enough members to fill the various Committees, Councils, and Portfolios. Large proportions of our senior members are either leaders or members of these groups now. If things remain the same, clearly there aren’t enough ‘younger’ members to replace the seniors in various groups.

Pastoral Care:
This will become a very important aspect of the life of the congregation as we the congregation continue to age. Pastoral care will be a growing need. With fewer members helping with pastoral care, how can we continue to provide the care needed?

A declining congregation means a decline in giving. We will become more dependent on rental income. This has become obvious with our budget for 2024. We have a deficit partly due to the fact the townhouses in Box Hill have not been completed for rental.

Live streaming (and zooming) will become more and more important for Sunday Worship Services and meetings. It’s inevitable. Mobility will be an issue. That’s why we need to invest in the latest equipment to enable us to provide live streaming and zooming services.

I have raised this issue before, and I know there is no huge support now, but I believe it’s inevitable that there will be one Sunday service as the congregation continues to decline and mobility becomes an acute issue

Another immediate challenge for us on Sundays is the need for members to be transported to and from MUC. Again, the task is undertaken by a few seniors. This will become a growing need and a challenge too.

And finally…
Some of the challenges I have stated are probably obvious. You might feel that I am painting a very negative and bleak future for Manningham Uniting Church. It might look that way, but I am simply stating some of the challenges ahead of us. How we face our challenges will determine the kind of future we have.

What will Manningham Uniting Church’s default future look like in 5 to 10 years if nothing changes? The greying of the church is a demographic challenge, but it is not a fait accompli that a church will decline or die.

I will give the last words to my colleague, Rev Sandy Brodine, “As a result of this narrative around a dying church, we haven’t focused on how we might grow.”
Will we focus on ‘how we might grow’?
Rev Swee Ann Koh