Outreach, Welfare

Feeding seniors’ spirituality

IN A LOCAL COMEDY FILM, one scene showed some seniors lamenting that they were “san deng gong ming” or third-class citizens. e pun hinged on the reference to “deng chi, deng shui, deng si”, literally translated as waiting to eat, waiting to sleep, and waiting to die.

While intended to provide comic relief, this scene has more than a sliver of truth in it.

It is easy to neglect ministry to seniors, and forget that they are “still human beings”, said the Rev Dr Keith Albans, a minister from the Methodist Church in Britain. And because of that, we sell them short.

The Rev Dr Albans is the Director of Chaplaincy and Spirituality of Methodist Homes (MHA), an independent charity founded by the Methodist Church in Britain to provide care, support and accommodation for British seniors in need. e 7,000 staff of MHA provide a range of services for 15,000 older people, including 70 Care Homes and 50 Community Services projects.

In March this year, the Rev Dr Albans visited Methodist Welfare Services (MWS) as part of his tour of some Methodist churches and agencies in Asia-Pacific countries such as Hong Kong, South Korea and Singapore.

While Singapore is facing an impending “silver tsunami”, Britain has been dealing with the issue of ageing population for a number of years.

The Rev Dr Albans reminded the church to keep older people in mind. “We cannot stop at meeting their physical needs, but must also feed their spirituality needs.”

Ministering to seniors is Wesleyan

Ministry to the elderly exemplifies John Wesley’s exhortation to “go not only to those that need you, but to those that need you most”. Few are as needy as the seniors who are lonely, isolated, have dementia and are hiding away because they are ashamed, said the Rev Dr Albans.

Helping the elderly live life to the full is also a Wesleyan heritage and embodies Robert Browning’s poem titled Rabbi Ben Ezra, from which comes the well-known motto of Anglo-Chinese School – “the best is yet to be”.

It is a common mind-set that ageing means decline. Many stop growing and engaging in what they would usually do. e Rev Dr Albans noted that having a focus on spirituality helps people go against this mind-set. “Spirituality says (the elders) can still grow, they can still find new things in their relationship with God,” he said.

Sometimes, there is also a temptation to sell the seniors short when it comes to their spirituality.

He recounted an incident some years ago when a new book for worship services was introduced and a chaplain said he expected the seniors in the homes to reject the new book because they were more familiar with the old book. But some residents wanted the new book instead, saying that if it was being used in church services, they wanted to be up-to-date too.

“It’s very easy to think that older people just want the old familiar,” he said. “But not all of them do.”

It is especially important to affirm the spiritual nature of the seniors. As they age and grow frail, many things attack their identities.

“Many elders say things like ‘why am I still here’, and ‘I’m useless’. We cannot answer these questions, but we can affirm their identity and value as a child of God,” he stated.

Feeding the spirituality of seniors who have dementia or are uncommunicative is not in vain either.

The Rev Dr Albans related an experience where a senior who had not been speaking for some time suddenly joined in the Lord’s Prayer during a worship session.

The feeding of their spirituality “somehow calls deeply into their senses and memory, and calls it forth, as it were”, he said. “ e person is still there.” Spirituality is key in ministry to the seniors. ey can grow and live life to the fullest, even in their golden years.

MWS concurs with this view. ere are plans for an in-house chaplain at MWS to minister to the elderly at our residential homes to meet their spiritual needs.

MWS has two homes for seniors: the 200-bedder Christalite Methodist Home (CMH) and the 300-bedder Bethany Methodist Nursing Home (BMNH). At CMH, 70 per cent of the residents are over 70 years old and destitute, while at BMNH, most of the elderly are either in wheelchairs or bedridden.

Chuang Bing Han is the Web Editor of the Methodist Welfare Services