Malcolm Tudor looks at a recent poll of the elderly

Church leaders, from the Pope down, like to think they speak for their members. A priest in Scotland, however, said recently that Cardinal Winning does not speak for him. Many Anglicans say the same about Dr Carey. Certainly leaders can be glib and at the same time reluctant to sound the beliefs of clergy and people.

The magazine Yours for August 2000 under the title ‘In God We Trust But…’ prints the results of a survey about the faith and spiritual lives of older people. Over 3,000 readers replied, and 1,300 replies were analyzed. Most of these pensioners pray daily. They believe they have had a personal experience which convinces them God exists. However, their attitude to church attendance is changing.

Do you believe in God? 92 per cent said they did. 76 per cent claimed confirmatory personal experience, for example, that their life was saved by divine intervention, that in times of crisis they had seen a bright light and felt warmth.

Do you pray? 93 per cent said they did, most saying at least once every day. Most prayed for world peace and for sufferers in other countries. Many prayed for their families and for good health for their loved ones. Few prayed for themselves or for material goods. Most said they felt calmer and more peaceful, comforted and less lonely, after praying. One said: ‘Having prayed, it’s as if I’d passed on my burden to someone who has supreme power.’

Do you believe in heaven? 89 per cent said they did, but many conceived it not as a place but more as a sensation of peace, ease, warmth, and security.

Do you believe in an afterlife? 85 per cent said they did. A great number thought they would be re-united with lost loved ones. More than half of the respondents were convinced that the departed loved ones watch over those they leave behind.

Do you feel the Church is out of touch with the modern world? To this question 54 per cent replied that it was. Half of those replying said the Church was not effective in spreading God’s word.

More than 60 per cent said they were lapsed attenders. Ill health was a common reason for absence, but most lapsed said the reason was some loss of faith and confidence in the Church. Many said they had been let down by fellow Christians or by the clergy. Many of the latter were criticized for not providing a strong lead or teaching Bible truths. Some said they now believed they could worship just as well as stay at home. Many said going to church had lost its meaning for them. Some said God appeared to them as vengeful in the light of experience. For some ‘happy-clappy services’ had put them off attendance. Some admitted they were absent from ‘sheer sloth’ and ‘laziness’.

Some traditionalists felt the Church did not preach Biblical truths, or deal with hard facts of life; and offered no moral lead over AIDS, drugs, family breakdown, Others rejected their Church because they had met with cliques, or found the Minister unconvincing. ‘There is no love’, said one, only collection plates. Another remarked: ‘Not only do the sheep stray… but the shepherd does too.’ Some readers would not generalize for the reason that parishes were different. For many respondents the friendship and support offered by the Church is the mainstay of their lives.

Many believed the Church was weaker with the disappearance of the traditional Sunday, and with distractions such as shopping and Sunday sport. People reject the Church also because of less poverty, less need and more greed. People are more questioning about Christianity, and some have left to consider other faiths. Materialism is put before spiritual richness, many felt, and they stated that many families do not introduce their children to Christian ideas, with the result that young people did not feel any need for the Church. People no longer fear God. Church is not fun. Some who attend are perhaps not the best adverts. These were some of the comments made.

In some cases responders claimed their own church attendance had gone up, partly because the clergyman gave people the style of worship they wanted. Some critics thought the churches only served the State and did not follow godly principle. Mary said they knew individuals who set a fine example of Christian standards and values, including spouses, clergy and lay readers. A number identified individuals as their ‘saint’.

Over 100 hymns were listed as favourites, the top ten being: How great thou art, Abide with me, All things bright and beautiful, The Old Rugged Cross, There is a green hill far away, Dear Lord and Father, The day thou gavest, Great is thy fruitfulness, The Lord’s my shepherd, Amazing grace.

In recent decades the Churches have attended to structural up-dating. It should be alarming to be told that older members see the institution as optional. Are we losing our elderly?

Malcolm Tudor is Vicar of Llandrindm with Trefeglwys and Penstrowed in the Diocese of Bangor.