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.