Valuing Age

Valuing Age


Authors are vain creatures – and reviews of their own books are anticipated with some interest – here is a review from the Church Times.


Valuing Age: Pastoral ministry with older people
James Woodward
SPCK £12.99 (978-0-281-05779-5)


SAUDI ARABIA has an extremely young population. In 2003, of the country’s 24 million people, 43 per cent were under the age of 15. In contrast, in the UK the number of people over the age of 65 grew by 31 per cent between 1971 and 2007, while the population under 16 declined by 19 per cent.



In 2001 there were more people over 60 (21 per cent of the popula­tion) than under 16 (20 per cent) in Great Britain. By 2021, there will be more people over 80 than aged under five. There are 11,000 centenar­ians in Britain today, compared with 300 in 1951. 


The international implications of these statistics for future decades of this century are immense. The national implications are huge as well, and it is these that the author explores in this thorough and well-organised book. 


SPCK’s New Library of Pastoral Care series, edited by Wesley Carr, is widely used and highly valued — and rightly so. James Woodward’s book is a worthy addition. He is dir­ector of the Leveson Centre for the Study of Ageing, Spirituality and Social Policy, and Vicar of Temple Balsall in the diocese of Birmingham. His aim is to increase our under­stand­ing of older people — broad­en­ing our sympathies, deepening our insights, and improving our pastoral care. 


A great deal of ground is covered in these 234 pages, as the chapter topics reveal. These include: health and well-being; the religious and spiritual needs of older people; wor­ship with older people; memory; intimacy, relationships, and sexual­ity; lifelong learning; retirement; illness, healing, and death; ageing and social policy; a theology of ageing; successful ageing. 


James Woodward adds several useful appendices, including details of many organisations working with and for older people. At the end of each chapter, there are exercises to encourage reflection and discussion. 


The author draws on research findings, but his paperback is rooted in the experiences of older people themselves. Most chapters include the views of several people in that age group. Perhaps surprisingly, having good neighbours and good friends is rated above good health or enough money. 


Gender differences are consid­ered. It is well known that many men find retirement a watershed, while ageing means widowhood for many women. How does this “feel”, and what might this mean for our network of churches and the pastoral care they offer? 


James Woodward reminds us that the present older generation lived through the sexual revolution of the 1960s. He explores the implications of this for carers and older people alike. 


Many of the older people in my church gladly support the fund that enables us to employ a youth worker. Should we perhaps set up a similar fund to pay someone to work among older people — not to visit the infirm, but to strengthen networks and to encourage, moti­vate, and mobilise older Christians, who are, so often, good news for both church and neighbourhood? And should we hold an annual service in celebration of old age? 


These are two practical questions prompted by James Woodward’s book, which I will pass to our PCC and Vicar. 


Canon Young is an author and co-founder of 

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