Attending church is the key to good mental health among older Europeans – study finds

church-service

A press release from the LSE reports new research showing that attending church is the key to good mental health among older Europeans

A study of depression among older Europeans has found that joining a religious organisation is more beneficial than charity work, sport or education in improving their mental health.

The surprising findings from a study by the Erasmus MC and the London School of Economics and Political Science also reveal that political and community organisations actually have a detrimental impact on the mental health of older Europeans on a long term basis.

In a study of 9000 Europeans aged 50+ over a four-year period, researchers at Erasmus MC and LSE looked at different levels of social activity and how they influenced people’s moods.

LSE epidemiologist Dr Mauricio Avendano said the only activity associated with sustained happiness was attending a church, synagogue or mosque.

“The church appears to play a very important social role in keeping depression at bay and also as a coping mechanism during periods of illness in later life. It is not clear to us how much this is about religion per se, or whether it may be about the sense of belonging and not being socially isolated,” he said.

The study showed that joining political and community organisations only provides short-term benefits in terms of mental health and seems, in fact, to lead to an increase in depressive symptoms longer term.

“Participants receive a higher sense of reward when they first join an organisation but if it involves a lot of effort and they don’t get much in return, the benefits may wear off after some time,” he said.

Similarly, the study did not find any short-term benefits from sports and participation in other social activities.

According to the recent Global Burden of Disease study, the incidence of depression among older Europeans ranges from 18 per cent in Denmark to 37 per cent in Spain.

While the sample sizes were small, the study by Dr Simone Croezen from Erasmus MC, Dr Avendano and colleagues also threw up some unusual findings:

  • Southern Europeans (Italy and Spain) have higher rates of depression than older people who live in the Scandinavian countries (Sweden and Denmark) or western Europe (Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands);
  • Depression may have less to do with the weather and more with other determinants, such as economic wellbeing or social relationships;
  • Northern Europeans are more likely to play sport than their southern counterparts;
  • Southern Europeans do not tend to socialise beyond their family networks and less than 10 per cent take part in either voluntary work or educational/training courses.

Previous studies have found that people who are involved in the church, clubs, sport, political groups and voluntary activities enjoy better mental health than the rest of the population. However, little research has been done on whether any of these activities in themselves actually cause happiness or whether people who are happy to begin with are more likely to engage in these activities.

“Our findings suggest that different types of social activities have an impact on mental health among older people, but the strength and direction of this effect varies according to the activity,” Dr Avendano said.

“One of the most puzzling findings is that although healthier people are more likely to volunteer, we found no evidence that volunteering actually leads to better mental health. It may be that any benefits are outweighed by other negative impacts of volunteering, such as stress.”

Social participation and depression in old age is published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. It is authored by Dr Simone Croezen (University Medical Centre Rotterdam), Dr Mauricio Avendano (LSE Health and Social Care), and Dr Alex Burdorf and Dr Frank van Lenthe (Erasmus MC).

The paper will be available here.

Diocese of Winchester appoints new Diocesan Youth Adviser

It’s great to hear that Sarah has been appointed to be the new Diocesan Youth Adviser – I’m looking forward to working with her over the coming months and years:

Sarah Long

We’re pleased to confirm that Sarah Long has been appointed Youth Adviser in the School of Mission, and will start work on 7 September 2015.

Sarah has been working most recently with Romance Academy, a national charity that helps young people both inside and outside the church to explore how to build healthy relationships. In addition to engaging directly with young people, she has had the pleasure of working with youth workers and parents across the UK to tackle tricky topics well with their teenagers.

Prior to this she was Youth director at St Paul’s Church, Camberley, heading up youth work in line with their vision “Living Christ in Camberley”.

Sarah says:

“It’s a real privilege to be joining the diocese and the School of Mission. I’m really looking forward to meeting and working with all those involved in youth ministry, as we begin to discover together what the 4 Strategic Priorities look like amongst the young people of the Winchester diocese.”

Growing Messy Leaders training day

growingmessyleaders_header

CPAS brings their extensive experience of growing leaders in churches to help Messy Churches. BRF’s Messy Church team and CPAS are working together to help Messy Church team members and leaders of all ages become better leaders through team-building work and leadership theory and reflective practice. These hands-on, fun, fast-moving and action-packed training days will give to those aged 9-99 (and older if required) the opportunity to understand more of the practicalities of leading a Messy Church, develop their teamwork and reflect on their inner relationship with God and those around them.

Take your Messy team to a different level. Come as a team! Bring your leaders young and old! A fun, inspirational, useful and paradigm-shifting all-age training day.

When? Saturday 14 November 2015
Where? St Paul’s Church, Oak Rd, Bursledon, Southampton, Hampshire SO31 8DT
Cost? £10 per adult, children 9-16 free.

Click here for full details on the Messy Church website

There is no Plan B – why the church must help children disciple other children

No Plan B

An article from Aim Lower Journal:

At the 4/14 Global Summit in New York in 2010, Reverend C.B. Samuel of India indicated that our Christian teens are in need of ideals—a cause worth living for and dying for—but the church is giving them more and more entertainment instead. What is the real solution?

This article draws from There is no Plan B – a document sponsored by the 4-14 movement and Compassion International (click to access your FREE copy)

Erikson’s Theory of Psychological Development postulates a significant shift in development when one reaches adolescence (11-18 years old). Preceding adolescence, development depends on what is done to a person; at adolescence, development depends primarily upon what a person does. At this stage, adolescents begin to develop strong affiliation and devotion to ideals, causes and friends.

Recent Barna Group research on reasons why young Christians leave church focused on those who were regular churchgoers during their early teens and explored their reasons for disconnection from church life after age 15. The research revealed that the number one reason our youth leave church is because “churches seem overprotective.”

At the 4/14 Global Summit in New York in 2010, Reverend C.B. Samuel of India indicated that our Christian teens are in need of ideals—a cause worth living for and dying for—but the church is giving them more and more entertainment instead. Churches thought that teens left the church because of the Xbox and the varied entertainment available to them, so, to compete, more resources were invested on entertainment only to discover that the exodus continued. What children and youth need is a personal connection with high ideals, causes and worthy challenges; to be a force they believe can change the world.

Just recently, Catholic Marawi Bishop Edwin de la Peña of San Juan, Philippines, urged children and youth to actively participate in the missionary endeavors of the church:
You young people and children have the energy, enthusiasm, courage and the ability to take the risk to step forward and say, ‘we want to be in that boat also; we want to be with Jesus and respond to the challenge of mission,’ said de la Peña, who is also chairman of the Episcopal Commission on Mission of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines. The prelate also told the youth that as the future of the nation, this is the right time for them to take the opportunity to engage actively in the mission of the Church. (CBCP News, Monday, February 11, 2013)379.

You can read the whole article here.

DiscipleKit: Discipleship resources developed by CPAS

DiscipleKit

CPAS have designed a new tool called DiscipleKit; an easy-to-use website bringing together the latest discipleship resources in one place.

It has the aim of providing you with the information that you need about discipleship resources to decide which are right for your church and groups. There are over 130 resources on the site with more to come, from online course manuals to DVDs and everything in between

They say:

“We are really excited to welcome you to DiscipleKit. We hope you enjoy looking around the site, and discovering some great resources to energise your journey of discipleship. Every resource has the information you need, a link through to obtain it, and an extensive review which will help you choose the one you want.

We are beginning with a focus on resources for small groups for Adults, Youth and Children – for those who are Enquiring about Christianity, Beginning the Christian journey, or Growing along the way. But we have great plans for the site, which include resources for individuals, and additional themed resources such as those for marriage, parenting and seniors. We would love your feedback and suggestions, so do join our DiscipleKit community and tell us what you would like to see included.”

Click here to check out the site.

Songs of Praise to feature makeshift church in Calais migrant camp

I’m really pleased to hear today from various news agencies that Songs of Praise is filming a segment in Calais to feature the makeshift church from the migrant camp.

Producers have already spent two days shooting an episode at a makeshift Ethiopian Orthodox Church in the ‘Jungle’ camp, which will be broadcast on a date to be finalised.  And the full crew for Songs of Praise is due to arrive at the centre of the 5,000-strong camp this weekend.

This comes amid a worsening crisis which has seen nine people lose their lives after thousands of migrants stormed the Channel Tunnel in a desperate attempt to build a new life in Britain.

Pictured is a makeshift Ethiopian Orthodox church, where film crews have already spent a day shooting

Pictured is a makeshift Ethiopian Orthodox church, where film crews have already spent a day shooting

A baby sits in the middle of women from Ethiopia and Eritrea who are praying and singing during Sunday mass at the makeshift church

A baby sits in the middle of women from Ethiopia and Eritrea who are praying and singing during Sunday mass at the makeshift church

Prayers at the makeshift Ethiopian Orthodox Church

Prayers at the makeshift Ethiopian Orthodox Church

Production for the show was disrupted after one parishioner objected to being filmed during a service at the tarpaulin and corrugated iron church, The Sun reported.

Another worshipper, Ezekiel Lala, confessed to the newspaper he had been caught trying to illegally enter the UK thirty times.  The 28-year-old said:

‘I pray in church for good health so I can get to England.  I know God will help me. I try every night to get to England.’

Kibrom Kasta leads an service for Ethiopian and Eritrean worshippers at the jungle church

Kibrom Kasta leads an service for Ethiopian and Eritrean worshippers at the jungle church

Books I have read: A Resilient Life

Gordon MacDonaldGordon MacDonald is a long-term pastor who writes with fantastic wisdom. Alongside Eugene Peterson and Henri Nouwen he is someone who I try to read anything that he publishes. Reading this book I was not disappointed.

 

I bought A Resilient Life a few years ago when I was beginning to explore my own emotional and mental health. On the back cover it talks about how life is like running a race – “isn’t this the perfect metaphor of what your heart is longing for – running life’s race with intentionality and grace? With strength and focus? Well, you can.”

 

A Resilient Life

The book intermingles MacDonald’s story of being a runner at high school, and being coached by the legendary Marvin Goldberg, with the wider stories from life. A Resilient Life looks at five major themes:

  • Resilient people are committed to finishing strong
  • Resilient people run inspired by a big-picture of life
  • Resilient people run free of the weight of the past
  • Resilient people train to go the distance
  • Resilient people run in the company of a “Happy Few”

 

Over the years I’ve seen too many leaders burned and destroyed in their 40s, 50s and 60s. Only this last weekend here in the UK we’ve had the headlines surrounding Lord Sewel. Gordon MacDonald speaks out against this challenging people to put their life on a Christian foundation that prevents this.

 

For me having gone through something of a crisis moment in my mid to late twenties it’s been interesting to reflect on how I deal with the past and look forward to the future. My copy of this book has lots of scribbles and underlining – bits I plan to come back to time and time again over the coming months.

The Cost – Brother Andrew

Sixty years ago a man called Andrew took the risk of saying ‘Yes’ to God. It led him to venture behind the Iron Curtain where he discovered persecuted Christians, people who were truly counting the cost of following Christ. ‘Brother Andrew’ went on to found Open Doors, an organisation that supports persecuted Christians in over 50 countries today – including thousands of Christians in Syria.

As this short film weaves between the story of Brother Andrew’s early adventures of faith and the story of the church in Syria today, we are presented with the same choice: are we ready to say ‘Yes’ to God, whatever the cost?

A great film celebrating sixty years since Brother Andrew said ‘Yes’ to smuggling the Bible into countries where it was banned. What a legend!

Children’s Society research paper

Too old too young

The Children’s Society have recently published a very helpful paper on Too old, too young?: Theology on the ambiguity of adolescence and the impact of neglect’.

As the foreword by Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, Bishop of Gloucester says:

In order to deal with the practical issues around how to protect and nurture children and young people as they grow, we need a better understanding and a fuller vision of what it means to be a teenager. Furthermore, it is vital for the church to wrestle theologically with the issues of what it means to be a young person in relation to family life, community membership and participation in wider society. Thus, this collection of essays is both timely and important.

The first section takes a fresh look at what the issues are including new analysis of how young people are neglected within the home. The second looks at these issues through a theological lens with a reflection on what Scripture might tell us, and the final section takes on the urgent task of how we might constructively act within families, communities and at the legislative level. These essays aim to provoke both hearts and minds and is a prophetic call to respond.

Greatest Church welcome

This has to be one of the best ever church welcome signs:

Photo credit: jbbarnes88

Photo credit: jbbarnes88

Photograph location: St Clements Church, Leigh-on-sea, Essex, England

Transcribed for anyone who has trouble reading it from the picture.

“We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, widowed, gay, confused, filthy rich, comfortable, or dirt poor. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying new-borns, skinny as a rake or could afford to lose a few pounds. You’re welcome if you are Old Leigh, New Leigh, Not Leigh, or just passing by.

We welcome you if you can sing like Pavarotti or can’t carry a note in a bucket. You’re welcome here if you’re ‘just browsing,’ just woke up or just got out of prison. We don’t care if you’re more Christian than the Archbishop of Canterbury, or haven’t been in church since little Jack’s christening.

We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome keep-fit mums, football dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like ‘organised religion.’ We’ve been there too!

If you blew all your money on the horses, you’re welcome here. We offer a welcome to those who think the earth is flat, ‘work too hard,’ don’t work, can’t spell, or because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church.

We welcome those who are inked, pierced or both. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid or got lost on the London Road and wound up here by mistake. We welcome tourists, seekers and doubters, bleeding hearts… and you!”

Pope calls on Ecuador’s youth to be champions for the environment

Pope Francis rides through the crowd in his popemobile as he arrives to celebrate Mass at Bicentennial Park in Quito, Ecuador, Tuesday, July 7, 2015. Pope Francis is beginning his second full day of his South American tour. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Pope Francis rides through the crowd in his popemobile as he arrives to celebrate Mass at Bicentennial Park in Quito, Ecuador, Tuesday, July 7, 2015. Pope Francis is beginning his second full day of his South American tour. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Pope Francis challenged Latin America’s youth to take up his environmental protection campaign, saying the defence of God’s creation isn’t just a recommendation but a requirement.

The appeal, delivered at Quito’s Catholic University, is particularly relevant for Ecuador, a Pacific nation that is home to one of the world’s most species-diverse ecosystems in the Galapagos Islands and Amazon rain forest, but is also an OPEC country heavily dependent on oil extraction.

Francis told students and professors that God gave humanity the Earth to not only cultivate, but to care for — a message he framed earlier this month in his headline-grabbing encyclical on the environment.

He said:

“It is no longer a mere recommendation, but rather a requirement because of the harm we have inflicted on it by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed it”

Pope Francis cameras

He challenged universities to ensure that students’ educations aren’t aimed only at profitable careers but at helping the poor and the environment.  He said:

 

“There is a relationship between our life and that of mother Earth, between the way we live and the gift we have received from God”

He also called for long-term changes beyond short-term goals, saying,

“The tapping of natural resources, which are so abundant in Ecuador, must not be concerned with short-term benefits. As stewards of these riches which we have received, we have an obligation toward society as a whole, and toward future generations.”

Sticky Faith training

Sticky Faith

Tonight it was great to host 45 leaders coming together to hear from Brian Spurling of Urban Saints and Sarah Smart from Scripture Union on Sticky Faith:

Consists of four major studies over 2004-2010. Based on American family and church life and culture. We’ve never undertaken this research in the UK, although there are some similar studies from Australia.

Key facts

  • 40-50% of older teens who went into further/higher education failed to stick at their faith.
  • Only 20% of those who leave their faith actually planned to do so. The other 80% intended to stick with their faith but didn’t. Interesting how many were staying in church just to please parents or enjoy the free chocolate and doughnuts.
  • For the 50-60% who do stick with their faith, their life-styles often become very similar to those of their non-Christian contemporaries.
  • Between 30-60% of teenagers who abandon their faith and their church do return to both in their late twenties. However, the damage has been done in terms of the consequences of ‘bad’ lifestyle choices.
  • The research shows little difference in the above between the genders.

What does it look like in the UK?

  • In 1980 almost 12% went to church at least once a month, in 2005 it was down to 7%. Recent research suggests this might level off, mainly due to immigration from countries with a strong catholic and church tradition.
  • Average age in 1980 was about 37 years old, now in 2015 it is aged 56 years old. We have an issue with an ageing population, but the church has an even bigger issue.
  • % of church goers who were aged 15yrs old and under in 1980 33% of the church was 15 years old and younger, in 2020 Peter Brierley expects it to be 5%.
  • The difference to the American church is that in the UK we struggled to keep children, whereas in the USA they kept them through to teenage years.
  • We were seeing 1,000 children aged 15 and under leaving the church every week in the 1990s – half-a-million a year.

There are two fundamental things that had been miscommunicated to teenagers by adults in their churches:

  1. Many young people have picked up a mistaken understanding of what it means to be a Christian. 66% thought it was just about living a life of good works that loves others and that please God and then he would be interested in you. 33% didn’t mention God and 33% didn’t mention Jesus. If you work with young people you might like to ask them this question. The key is relationship with a living God, who made us. Young people in the UK equate God as creator more than anything else.
  2. Many young people have picked up a mistaken understanding of what the gospel is too.
    1. The ‘gospel of sin management’: faith is reduced to a list of do’s and don’ts and focuses on the unpleasant consequences of ignoring the don’ts.
    2. The ‘Red Bull gospel’: a performance-led view of faith that believes staying on a treadmill of good works’ is what really counts. It is almost impossible to keep it up.
    3. The ‘Pharisee’ gospel: a view of faith that believes inner righteousness is achieved by being seen to do the right things on the outside. No need for personal holiness.

History has brought us to the point where the Christian message is thought to be essentially concerned with only how to deal with sin: with wrongdoing or wrong-being, and its effects. Life, our actual existence, is not included in what is presented at the heart of the Christian message, or it is included only marginally … The current gospel then becomes a ‘gospel of sin management.’

Dallas Willard The Divine Conspiracy

The core of Sticky Faith is developing a clear and honest understanding of both the gospel and biblical faith.

At the heart of Sticky Faith is a faith that trusts in God and understands that obedience is a response to that trust, in everything.

Dr. Kara E. Powell & Dr. Chap Clark

Sticky Faith is

  1. Both internal and external: part of the inner thought and emotions together with lifestyle choices and actions that reflect the inner faith commitment.
  2. Both person and communal: celebrating God’s love for the individual, but always locating faith in the wider community.
  3. Both mature and maturing: showing some evidence of maturity but recognising we are all on a journey.

Developing Sticky Faith

Consumer Gospel: Mike Yaconelli’s, Contemplative Youth Ministry, is a critical book to read. Outside In by Mike Green as you are turning young people into religious consumers through the youth ministry programmes. Mark Yaconelli said we have done it, we’ve

  Consumer approach Content (Sunday School) approach Contemplative approach
Rooted in Anxiety & fear We’ve always done it this way Love for the individual
Theology Faith is fun Faith is conformity Faith is an on-going relationship of trust
Leader Programme director Teacher Spiritual director pointing to God
Volunteers Chaperones Classroom assistants Seekers and mentors
Teaching Life skills/issues Religious information Way of Jesus/Christian living
Practice Passive entertainment Memorisation & reiteration Action rooted in prayer and reflection
Young people Religious consumers Potential church members Spiritual seekers

Key thoughts:

  • Expose young people to real-life examples of others learning to trust God.
  • Contrast ‘good things we should do’ with ‘trusting in a good God.’
  • Focus on trusting God before obeying God.
  • Teach about recovery and repentance.
  • Don’t dodge difficult questions about trust, but do avoid ‘pat’ answers.

How do we view young people:

  • Empty containers ready to be filled with knowledge.
  • Sinners in need of repentance.
  • Prisoners waiting to be freed.
  • Growing plants needing to b carefully tended.
  • Pieces of clay ready to be moulded.
  • Spiritual beings made in God’s image.

The last is the most challenging and yet rewarding.

What is the top issue that tweenagers need to sort out in their lives?

  • Who am I?
  • Where am I?
  • Why is there so much brokenness in the world?
  • How can I find a pathway to wholeness?
  • What does the future hold?

The Bible answers the questions in order beautifully from Genesis to Revelation. Things need to be grounded in the meta-narrative of God’s story.

Sticky Identity

From a survey of 7,000 11-16s from a wide variety of backgrounds, carried out between 2011 and 2014 by the New Philanthropy Capital.

  • Emotional wellbeing for boys is static aged 11-18 and above girls; whereas the girls drops down significantly and is always below boys.
  • Self-esteem matches this.
  • Overall life satisfaction the boys dips as well, but again the boys drops less than the girls.
  • Satisfaction in your community produces the steepest drop for both of them.

Key thoughts:

  • Develop rituals and rites of passage, and celebrate milestones reached or passed. (It works in family life too.)
  • Help your young people identify their passions and gifts. Affirm character growth more than academic achievement.
  • Help your young people to reflect more on their experiences, and grow through hardship.
  • Pay attention to ‘trigger moments’ that promote identity growth.
  • Aim for a diverse youth and children’s leadership team
  • Support your teens for at least an extra year when they leave home.

Sticky Church

Know your young people and involve them fully, not treating them as separate entities:

  • Involvement in all-age worship for teenagers is more consistently linked with mature faith than any other church-based activity.
  • The more teenagers serve and build relationships with younger children, the more likely it is that their faith will stick.
  • Teens in the survey said that the best way they felt welcomed was when the congregation showed an interest in them.
  • Sticky faith encourages churches to develop ‘Sticky Webs’ where at least 5 adults (of all ages) speak into the lives of every young person. Teenagers said they wanted MORE interaction with adults, not less!
  • Mentoring is a brilliant, biblical model for growth!

Quiz

  1. Why do young people go to youth group?  Because they want to be with their youth leaders.
  2. What % of teens said they felt their youth leader really knew them?  20%
  3. What did they want their youth leaders to help them with the most? Applying the Bible teaching to everyday life, especially suffering, why is the church so full of hypocrisy, and what does the bible say about sexuality, creation & evolution.
  4. What was the number one thing the teens said they wanted more of in their youth groups? More time for deep conversations, whereas more time for fun stuff was bottom of the list.
  5. Who had the stickiest faith in the end? Those that often talked about having doubts – especially does God exist, does God love me, is Christianity the only way to God.