Valuing Age

Valuing Age

Selling books is no easy work these days and authors need all the help we can get…… I am glad to give some space to this review by Helen Cameron of Ripon College Cuddesdon.

WOODWARD, James. 2008. Valuing Ageing: Pastoral Ministry with Older People. London: SPCK. Pbk. 192pp. ISBN: 9780281057795. £12.99.

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

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 marginaliza- tion 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.”

Those involved in the pastoral care of older people need to ask themselves about their own relationship with age, because that is a critical factor in the generation of imaginative pastoral care (pp. 189-90).

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