Many churches neglected ministry to old people in favour of caring for young people and families, a local Anglican lay minister has told an international conference on Ageing and Spirituality.
Dr Douglas Golding, 88, the seniors' minister of St Mark's Anglican church, South Hurstville, has been taking monthly services in three nursing homes for more than 10 years.
In a paper given to the 8th annual Conference of Ageing and Spirituality, held in Old Parliament House, Canberra, October 24 to 30, Dr Golding said that when his rector asked him to take over his nursing home services he found no training in seniors' ministry was available.
He had to learn on the job, and from books in the Camden College library.
"Church officers generally told me, "our priority is youth ministry - the youth are the future of the church', Dr Golding said.
"Yes, young people may be the future of the church, and young families may be the ones whose giving pays today's bills, but those living in nursing homes and retirement villages are its past," he said..
"Their giving and their prayers supported the church during their lifetimes. Why should they be ignored because they now need to receive more than they can give?"
Dr Golding told delegates from seven countries stories of people he had ministered to who had spent their lives in the fellowship and the service of the church and suddenly found themselves in a community without these spiritual resources and spiritual companionship.
He said he had been invited to lead services in several other nursing homes, outside his own parish.
He had passed on the invitations to the ministers of those parishes, but had no response.
Other concerns included what was the best form of service for nursing homes residents, a traditional liturgical service or a simple 'liturgy of the Word' in modern language, and the fact that spiritual ministry in any nursing home depended entirely on the support of the activities officer.
'In some homes I am welcomed', he said. "Residents are prepared for the service, and staff members are also allowed to attend.
"In other homes, I may arrive to find the residents attending a concert, or a movie or
a session of bingo.
"Visiting ministers have no input into any issues of resident care like those aired in the recent Royal Commission.
"Residents are always dressed in their Sunday best, as it were, for the services or for pastoral
visits If there are problems in management of patient care, we are not aware of them and residents may be afraid to speak about them in the presence of staff'.
St Mark's now has an annual Seniors' Hymnfest as part of the State's Seniors' week activities. Residents of local nursing homes are always invited and many attend, those who have friends or relatives to bring them.
Copies of the Dr Golding's ppaper are available from firstname.lastname@example.org.