An Australian academic beats a path to Winchester to find out more about the Anna Chaplaincy approach to supporting older people.
Dr Janette Young describes herself as 'an Australian academic with an interest in the everyday things we do that create health or quality of life, mainly in regard to older people'. One aspect of this is church engagement – particularly small community churches (like the one she attends) – and she is very interested in people's later life experiences of faith and knowing God.
Coming to faith in older age
She notes, 'We are very privileged in Australia at this point in time to have a population being kept alive longer and longer – extending their opportunity to come to faith in their creator! Apart from an academic interest, I have a passion for seeing older people come to faith in older age.'
Dr Young thought we might be interested in a couple of Australian examples of late life returns to faith.
Returning to church engagement
We met in the shadow of Winchester Cathedral and first compared notes about attitudes to old age and spirituality in our respective countries. She was keen to understand what was happening in regard to evangelism among older men and women in Britain.
Dr Young, her colleague Dr Caroline Adams and a team of local church ministers, theological academics and the National Church Life Survey team, have begun to delve into the little-recognised phenomenon of people who return to church engagement after many years, or decades, of non-engagement. 'We are conscious that this is happening more than anyone has actually realised,' she said. ‘All those figures re an ageing church are not just about continuity.’
The background to her research project states: 'Increased life expectancy is a key feature and achievement of the 20th century and has implications for the time that people have to engage in a range of pursuits. People may intensify engagement in established activities, engage in new activities (the proverbial “bucket list”) and they may return to activities and engagement that they pursued when younger. Our project focuses on the latter – specifically the returning to active church engagement by older people after many years away from the church community (returnees). 'You may read more about her project here.
I went on to explain the origins of Anna Chaplaincy in Hampshire and what The Bible Reading Fellowship (BRF) has done since 2014 to establish the ministry nationally and raise the whole profile of what is distinctive about the spirituality of older people.
'To my knowledge, we have nothing like this at home,' she said. Dr Young intends to speak with the Anglican Archbishop of South Australia, the Most Revd Geoffrey Smith, on her return after an extended visit this summer to see several people in relation to her field of research and teaching.