We met Pam Rolls and Jan Radford at Christ Church, Oxford, when they came to the launch of our BRF Bible Reflections for Older People.
Pam and Jan wanted to tell us about their ‘generation Gold’ services designed specifically for older people, and have put together information to share with others who also put on daytime services which suit the tastes of people who one might describe as loving traditional worship but wanting fresh ways of hearing the gospel proclaimed.
'Valuing older people, we recognised the depth and wealth contained in the rich stories of their lives and we had a passion to minister to them and help them grow in their faith.
Background and perceived need for the project
As is perceived in many churches there is a lot of emphasis on the work with children and young people. We heard people saying: 'I like the old hymns', 'I like the proper "Our Father".'
This is, of course, difficult as there rightly needs to be a spreading of the gospel to younger people in a format that is accessible to them and their generation.
It appeared that many wanted a ‘return to vestments’ and ‘traditional hymns'. It would be relatively easy to provide a service that contained these elements and created nourishment and nurturing of our older parishioners.
However, a challenge would be to have a ‘spark’ of something new that was also innovative and had exciting elements. Alongside this, we needed something that created hospitality and would appeal to people who did not normally attend church, thus also giving it a mission agenda.
Making a start on the project: spring 2015
We met together and we identified some core components for a new service, which took into account comments received:
Traditional service structure
Presided over by ordained ministers wearing clerical dress
It would run on a week day – several times a year, still to be decided
We would have tea and cake after each service and that this would be a major element (this would enable people to get to know one another, decrease any isolation for members on their own and provide mutual support)
Forming a team
Information was put in our news sheet and announced at Sunday services that we were looking for people to help develop a weekday service for older people. Individuals were also approached personally. We were explicit that we needed various members to make the project successful and this included musicians, those with catering skills etc.
A core group of three women initially volunteered and they became our main team.
Description of services
We found an incredibly helpful resource in the BRF book by Caroline George, Living Liturgies, and this has enabled us to be creative and develop many of our own resources.
We maintain the language of the traditional Lord’s Prayer and use hymns and music that reflect well-known favourites.
This new series of services runs quarterly in alternating venues with All Saints’ Chilton and St. Matthew’s Harwell.
The two of us share the leading and preaching and involve members of the congregation to read and lead prayers
Jan Radford leading 'generation Gold'*
There is also a regular ‘Conversation Slot'. This features questions to the congregation about the service focus.
There is a team of people supporting the services to ensure there is a warm welcome and hospitality. This includes not only refreshments but wonderful small sandwiches, cakes and scones etc. This has become a bedrock of the service and news of it continues to spread through the villages. Core team members mingle with the congregation after the service and have good conversations.
We specifically wanted there to be something for people to take home, (as seen in much children’s work), and this developed into the idea of a reverse collection! The antique collection plate has a small gift relevant to the service theme. For example: small keys, small stones, candles, and chocolates (these were printed with the logo and the date of the next service) and it is passed round for the congregation to take the gift.
There is also a small card for people to take home that has a relevant Bible passage and one person commented that it reminded her of her happy Sunday school days, only much more grown up! These small gifts have enabled us to create a feeling that people are valued and even the name itself ‘generation Gold’ makes a positive statement of appreciation.
‘generation Gold’ appears to be popular and successful and has demonstrated there was a need for this type of service.
The numbers, which do not necessarily reflect the same people each week, have varied between 22 to about 45, typically, and as many as 56 when joining with another village group.
People have commented on the welcome and hospitality and have particularly enjoyed the reverse collections and Bible verse cards to take home.
We have an opportunity to share conversations and get alongside people. It appears that there is an aura of trust forming as people share their individual’s stories of their lives.
We continue to long for more people from the community to take part and the challenge always remains in encouraging new members to attend.
We are aware of the value of delivering personal invites and recognise that these invitations and contact may particularly appeal to the ‘open de-churched’ (the 20% of people who at some point attended church and are open to returning).
In the future we are hoping to develop ‘generation Gold’ activities as there is clearly an opportunity for this. This may take the form of a shortened Alpha course that we could name Alpha Gold!
We have witnessed how elderly people embrace and are open to new things when presented in a ‘culturally sensitive’ and non-threatening way.’
Ram Rolls and Jan Radford, Chilton, Oxfordshire
Services might explore a theme such as ‘Water’** or ‘Light'*
* Photo of Jan Radford and visual aid on light by Jonathan Wood
** Photo of visual aid on water by John Pigott