In 20 years’ time, there’ll be more than half a million people in the UK aged 100 or over.
A new report by the Alzheimer’s Society points highlights the ‘loneliness, alienation and segregation’ of many of our elderly people.
Professor John Swinton, minister of the Church of Scotland and chair in Divinity and Religious Studies at Aberdeen University, argues for a response to be found in the ‘key motifs’ of acceptance and belonging to be found in community.
‘A person’s spirituality has nothing to do with what they may or may not know. It has everything to do with who they know and how they relate to them,’ Professor Swinton writes in Friendship and Community in the textbook he has edited, Spiritual Dimensions of Pastoral Care.
He will be a keynote speaker at a national conference in June which will address the Christian approach to a wide range of disabilities and disabling conditions. He describes the need for ‘the open, inclusive community of love and acceptance which we find revealed and lived out in the ministry of Jesus.’
The conference will look at the challenges faced by the UK Church in welcoming and including people with dementia, sight loss, hearing loss, intellectual disabilities, autism, loss of mobility; and it will also discuss how the Church supports carers.
The impressive line-up of Christian experts in different fields of disability also includes leading Christian psychotherapist Louise Morse, who believes that the secret of more contented ageing is found in the Bible.
‘Living by scriptural wisdom prepares us cognitively, emotionally and spiritually for contented old age,’ says Louise Morse.
Dr Temple, conference organiser who is the executive officer of Churches for All, a network of 14 Christian organisations working alongside disabled people, states “One in three of us will live with dementia in our later years so it’s a very live issue for the Church to consider and to prepare for.”
‘How effectively does the local church reach out, connect with, welcome and include Deaf people or people with autism, for example? The latest Alzheimer’s Society report talks about people with dementia needing acceptance and understanding in the community to achieve a good life. That’s true for many people with different disabilities.
‘There are people living nearby most of us who feel desperately lonely because they are losing their sight and there’s no one to take them to the local shops. There are mothers who feel isolated because they feel there’s little tolerance of their autistic children. We need to become a more caring society – and the Church can lead the way.’
‘The conference seeks to be unashamedly transformational as we bring these issues into the light. We hope that many churches will send representatives to listen and learn,’ adds Dr Temple.
Enabling Church: Everybody in! takes place on June 3rd at Bethel Convention Centre in West Bromwich, just off the M5 and near central Birmingham.
For more information about the programme and the line-up of speakers, go to www.churchesforall.org.uk/EnablingChurch. ‘Early bird’ tickets (£13.50) can be booked now.