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).