Growing older

It came as something of a shock when I discovered that when I became 79, I actually had become 80. I was amazed. According to my way of thinking, when a child is born they do not become one until they complete their first year – up until that point, I argued, they were only so many months old. To my amazement, I found that I was wrong. So all of a sudden I feel as if I have jumped forward a year. I have become even older than I thought I was.

All this, of course, has given me food for thought. I have entered well and truly into old age. Camilla Cavendish in her book Extra Time: 10 Lessons for an Ageing world, argued that with improvements in people’s health middle age has now extended until we are 73. But I am now seven years past that new dividing line. Inevitably energy levels are not the same they used to be. I confess that after lunch I shamelessly put my feet up and have a half-hour nap (indeed, sometimes it is even longer).

It is all rather a shame. For part of me feels that I would make a fantastic minister were I to go back to leading a church (in my dreams I even do so!) for having learnt so much about ministry. That learning experience included, of course, those times when everything seemed to go wrong and life was tough. Alas, I no longer have the energy that I first had when I first was given pastoral charge of a church. That stage in God’s service is well and truly over.

Yet, as far as I am concerned – and this conviction is true of most retired ministers too – there never will never come a point when God does not have a call upon our lives. For me, God will continue to have a call upon my life right up to my dying breath.

So how do I live out my call now that I am 80? Clearly I cannot continue in the ‘gung-ho’ manner which characterised the first years of my retirement. This in turn has led me to take stock of where I am and to set for myself priorities in terms of how I continue to serve God.

Fear not, dear reader, I have not decided to give up my blog. Writing remains a priority for me – and not least writing this weekly blog which I first began in October 2011 (on reflection that calls for a celebration next October!). I love my blog – it is a bit like having a church without all the hassle. So many of you, my followers, are so encouraging in your comments. At times it feels as if I am walking on air. So, the blog will continue.

Another priority will be speaking to ministers and to students training for ministry: I feel I still have much to offer. How long there will be a demand for my services, is another question. Unlike the USA, in Britain we do not seem to honour old age and all the experience it brings with it.

A third priority will be the family. Here I have in mind in the first place my wife, Caroline.  Then, of course, come the four children and the six grandchildren. But I am also head of the family: there are my two siblings and my thirteen cousins. I feel that I have a God-given responsibility to care in ways small and large for all the wider family.

Setting priorities does not rule out getting involved in other forms of service. However, I tend to think that my time as preacher is coming to an end. Fortunately, I am happy to be a ‘punter’ at Chelmsford Cathedral where I now worship. Although through the years preaching has always been an important expression of my service for God, it is no longer. Yet having said that, I have already accepted the odd preaching engagement – but such engagements will be the exception rather than the norm.

At the moment I feel good about myself. True, my visits to the GP have increased as also the number of pills I take every day. However, when the weather is good, I enjoy a three-mile walk. I still feel fit. On the other hand, I know the day is coming when health will be an issue. One thing for certain, God willing I will be able in the face of death to show faith and courage. And in those days and months prior to death, when perhaps I will need to be in a nursing home, hopefully I will not become self-absorbed, but will seek to radiate love and faith to those who care for me, and indeed to those who may visit me.

‘Rejoice in the Lord, and again I say, rejoice’ wrote the Apostle Paul. Even in old age there is no room for doom and gloom. With all God’s people, I have a hope which is firm and secure.


  1. Hi Paul,

    That first bit can’t be right – by that logic you would be born one year old!
    But age brings fresh opportunities as well as concerns. Every ezxperience adds something to what you have to offer.
    Keep on keeping on!

  2. Hi Paul
    Pleased you to carry on with the blog
    Not always respond but I always read it.
    I Like this weeks as feel the same in many respects, as though I could
    well lead a church with all my experience yet I now lack energy and probably the patience and difficulty understanding the modern generation and their ways.

  3. Hi Paul,
    Absorbing blog once again. I have 3 thoughts from it:

    Firstly, you say that the basis on which we’ve aged ourselves is wrong (1st paragraph)! An interesting claim/comment, who did you pick this up from? How authoritative is it?

    Secondly, “Unlike the USA, in Britain we do not seem to honour old age and all the experience it brings with it”. Is this really so, why do you think we are different to our brothers and sisters across the pond?

    Thirdly, with regards to the question of aging (I am myself 59, although according to you that would be 60!) I decided as a young man that I would later take hold of the verses written of Moses just before he died, “Moses was 120 years old when he died. His eye was undimmed, and his vigour unabated” (Deuteronomy 34:7).

  4. Thanks for your very real, but encouraging view of old age. Perhaps the losses felt by us all in old age may serve to make us more humble and receptive …at least , that is my hope.
    I always enjoy reading your blogs, so am very glad you are keeping going!

  5. Greetings Paul,

    I assume you are referring to the South Korean custom of counting age from the birth date! It’s been in the (BBC) news a bit lately because SK are officially “getting in line” with the rest of the world. Imagine a whole nation getting up one morning to face the fact they are all a year younger!

    Anyhow, your reflections are pertinent. I’m a little over 10 years your junior (68) and realized for the first time recently that there are things I still wish to do, but available time and energy will simply not allow me to do them all. I’m not talking about those “Bucket List” items we so often hear about, (parachuting, bungee jumping, river rafting etc.) Nothing wrong with parachuting of course (assuming the parachute works!) but my list is focused where I might best make a Kingdom difference. Not everything can happen. Some things must be let go.

    I agree that for those of us who have spent the bulk of our lives in church ministry , there is much we would like to go back and pass on. It seems quite unfair that it wasn’t until recent years that I realised I even had some worthwhile observations/assessments/conclusions to offer!

    Perhaps a worthwhile discussion sometime might focus on the “downside” of spiritual gifts. Among the scant supply of gifts within my basket, I share with you the gift to preach. I trust my efforts have blessed folk along the way. They have certainly blessed me! The process of exegesis, writing, and delivery have been a constant source of nurture to me. I often quote Eric Liddell’s phrase “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure” as a parallel to my preaching experience. I guess I might have another decade of energy ahead, but like so much else, this too will pass. Learning to let go willingly and grieve appropriately seems (for me at least) to be necessary. God save me from becoming a grumpy old man!

    As always, every Blessing.

    P.S. This discussion reminded of my Principle at Baptist Theological College, (you’ll know who Paul). During my time there all students AND staff had to have a outside-of-school “mission”. He began a church plant, which he still leads. And what’s more, he still preaches at least every second week and still reads avidly in order “to improve my preaching”. Amazingly, he told me earlier this week that he’s about to turn 90!

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