I can’t tell you how much I have valued older people – and that’s throughout the whole of my near thirty-year parish ministry. It’s often said that churches are short of children and young people – and that’s true, worryingly so – but we should also be ready to say, ‘Isn’t it great that we’ve got lots of older people!’
Let me tell you about May. She lost her husband in her mid-years and continued with what she was doing for a short time before deciding that God was calling her to something different. And so, much to the shock of her family, she announced that she was going to train to be a teacher in a mission setting. She was in her 60s when she packed up her home and headed to Kenya. It was, for her, an absolute life transformation; she got a fresh start and discovered things about herself that hitherto had lain dormant.
Upon returning to Scotland, May threw herself into various charitable activities – not least organising local efforts for The Leprosy Mission and for the World Day of Prayer. A dedicated Guild member, she would never miss a meeting – even when having to trail down the road on a pouring wet night!
When our congregation launched a service to support those struggling with addiction, May – by now into her 70s – was one of the first to step us as a volunteer. She served until she was 80 and many were the young men and women who came to know her and trust her and turn to her as a confidant and counsellor. That was a whole new world for May – she was so far out of her natural environment and comfort zone – and yet she never judged and never brought anything other than compassion and wisdom.
May got past her 90th birthday – and so what did she do to celebrate her big birthday? She got her head shaved for Macmillan Nurses, at the front of the church following the benediction!
In her final years, she struggled with poor health and with a cancer diagnosis, yet she was never anything other than bright and hopeful and an inspiration to everyone around her. Sensing that becoming ‘confined to barracks’ would hasten her deterioration, she forced herself to go out twice a day. She became a well-kent figure, slowly making her was along Arbroath’s High Street and back again, leaning on her walker and only occasionally pausing to draw breath.
That was May. The great tragedy was that when she was lost to us, lockdown restrictions meant that only a few were able to be there to give thanks for her life. But though not present, many more of us rejoiced to have known her and mourned to have lost her.
May lived all her life. She was one of the most faithful people I’ve ever met. I’m thankful to God for her and for the many older people like her who have inspired me and enriched my life as a result.
Faith in older people? May.
Rt Rev Dr Martin Fair
Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland