Valuing Age: Mission and Ministry among Older People

Valuing Age: Mission and Ministry among Older Peopleby James Woodward
SPCK New Library of Pastoral Care, 2008

Pastoral care and practical theology in the light of age and ageing are the focus of this book. It is written to help those involved in care, in a range of settings, to understand some of the pastoral questions and the issues that older people face. In particular it will attend to how the theories of age relate to our experience; and how experience might challenge and shape our theologies. Our shared commitment to this awareness of lifelong learning can help our ministry to be reflective and wise; it can broaden our imagination with sympathy.

The author has particular concern with the nature of theology as a practical discipline. It is never quite good enough for ministry to be only concerned with human experience. For as Christians we must ask how, in our lives, from within the richness and diversity of experience, we might live and practice our faith. How does our faith enable us to grow old? What particular theological questions emerge as we consider the process of getting older? In what way and to what extent is the Christian tradition a resource for our third or fourth age; for our living and our dying?

The theology in this book is practical without losing any of its challenges or contradictions. We need to keep on asking ‘What kind of God?’; ‘What does this mean for my faith?’; ‘How might I live more faithfully and hopefully?’

The text is grounded in the experience of older people: their hopes and fears; their problems and possibilities. And there are exercises to help reflection, at the end of each chapter.

Reviews of Valuing Age by James Woodward

Valuing Age: Review by Wesley Carr
Series Editor, New Library of Pastoral Care, SPCK

There is nothing more certain, so it is said, than death and taxation. Now with equal certainty we are aware that before death and often with major financial implications there is old age. We live as an ageing population.

From the pastor’s perspective it may sometimes appear that there are only older people with whom to do pastoral work. James Woodward takes us thoroughly through ministry with and to older people. They constitute a highly significant body in today’s and for tomorrow’s society. How many ministers, for example, lament the age profile of their congregation, especially that lack of youth and the preponderance of older people. Yet if they look closely at the age profile of the population in the area they may well find that their congregation matches it exactly.

This volume in the New Library of Pastoral Studies covers the whole range of issues that an ageing population raises for the church, for society, for carers and for old people themselves. It bases each section on stories and testimonies from elderly people. And it never loses touch with reality, whether talking about health and illness, or opportunities to try new aspects to living. There is no such individual as a stereotypic “old age person”.

This book will be of great value to ministers and all those who work with older people. There are exercises to test one’s understanding of the various dimensions this period of life. “What we must try and do is to befriend the elderly stranger within ourselves.”

James Woodward suggests that the 21st century might be that of the elderly. His book will equip all involved in this demanding ministry of pastoral work with and for elderly people.


Valuing Age: Review by Arthur F. Moore

This book has huge potential for empowering and enhancing the quality and relevance of pastoral ministry with older people. It is not a text book as such but it does offer the reader a richly and widely sourced introduction to the academic discipline social gerontology. I could recommend it on those grounds alone.

‘Valuing Age’ is comprehensively and meaningfully themed without being compartmentalised. Significant but potentially complex theories about ageing e.g. dementia theory are here economically and accessibly presented. The reader is masterfully taught without risk of becoming overwhelmed. That highly important but often ignored dimension to what James Woodward refers to as “the considerable diversity of perspective and experience” amongst older people i.e. intimacy, relationships and sexuality, is here openly, sensitively and helpfully evaluated. The thoughtfully conceived and challenging exercises added to end of chapters should help underpin the student’s engagement with and commitment to both other and personal increased awareness.

Studying and intervening in the life and social situation of so-called ‘older people’ in contemporary society may not be a comfortable experience. Paradoxically, ‘Valuing Age’ whilst admitting to the likelihood that the pastoral carer in this context may well be experiencing “ a crippling level of role uncertainty’, discloses that the essential challenge for effectiveness in the interpersonal context of pastoral care lies in the carer’s ability to remain “weak and vulnerable” throughout the shared, co-operative search for spiritual meaning. Huge potential for role support, however, lies in an understanding that this work significantly contributes to what I term ‘identity support service’ practice via a necessary range of underpinning values, plus key life experience and theory derived insights relating to social need and status.

James Woodward offers his reader the helpful insight that ‘spirituality’ might be understood “as a search for meaning”. As a Humanist Unitarian “spiritual adventurer” I found in this book a good deal of helpful light thrown upon that search. In particular, I found his connecting of wisdom in old age with the idea ‘ordinary theology’ hugely valuing. At the end of his book, James Woodward offers his “own thoughts about what makes for ’successful ageing”’. Every serious pastoral carer, who will certainly have learned a great deal about valuing age with the help of this book, should copy out those thoughts and pin them to the wall of his or her study!

Should the learning opportunities available through this book be as sensitively applied in pastoral care training as they have been written they will be an immensely valuable service developmental tool. This book is not a training manual. It is not a text for box tickers. It is a richly conceptualised, intellectually challenging, box avoiding practitioner resource. Thanks to James Woodward’s book future pastoral care should be grounded in what, as a 71 year old, I easily recognise as a strong sense of what is real about old age. I certainly felt immensely valued!

Arthur F. Moore B.A., B.Sc.(Soc.)., D.A.S.S., Dip. H&S.W. (Open).


Valuing Age: Review by Helen Cameron

As someone with regular contact with those in pastoral ministry I am conscious how little time they have for reading and how small their book budgets often are. This book can be warmly recommended to pastoral carers as a sound investment that will be used repeatedly. It is clearly written and free from jargon. Each chapter has a clear focus and can be comfortably read in half an hour. Chapters start with vignettes of experience which serve to draw the reader in and emphasize the diversity of experience amongst older people. They end with exercises that stimulate reflection and questions that provoke discussion. This structure means that the book lends itself to small-group sessions.

Readers of Practical Theology will recognize James Woodward as one of the editors of the Blackwell Reader in Pastoral and Practical Theology. Valuing Ageing exemplifies the pastoral cycle with each chapter starting with experience, exploring the issue, inviting the reader to reflect, and concluding with questions designed to lead to action. I would like to have seen more points of connection with the Christian tradition but recognize the challenges of doing this in a book designed to be read across traditions in the SPCK New Library of Pastoral Care.

The book is divided into three parts. Part One helps the reader understand the phenomenon of ageing by drawing together relevant ideas from demography, gerontology and health care. Part Two deals with nine issues that those offering pastoral care will encounter, including worship, memory, sexuality, gender, learning, retirement and health. Part Three offers some substantive conclusions in the areas of social policy, theology and personal preparation for old age. The book concludes with a list of useful organizations and suggestions for further reading. I regret the lack of an index as there are some important themes such as mental health, bereavement and the role of the Church which it would have been helpful to track through the book.

Valuing Ageing gently challenges the prevailing ageism of Church and society. Is old age a problem to be solved or is it a life stage with its own purposes and joys? Can the spirituality of older people embolden the Church to resist the cultural dominance of the market with its uniform aesthetic of youthfulness? Will the baby-boomer generation succeed in ensuring their spiritual needs are met in contrast to the marginalization of earlier generations? As the director of a small charity supporting the spiritual care of older people in residential homes, it is evident how resources are focused on physical needs rather than spiritual needs. By contrast this book draws out the spiritual gifts of older age: Remembering as a means of securing our own identity. Travelling to dependence, as a journey to simplicity. Forgiveness, as a means of drawing together the threads of our story.

The author emerges from the text, not only as a skilful practitioner but as someone who has thought through the personal implications of ageing and so presents it as “something for us all” rather than “something that is happening to other people.”

Helen Cameron, Director of the Oxford Centre for Ecclesiology and Practical Theology and Director of the Simeon Trust. Ripon College Cuddesdon, Oxford, OX44 9EX

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