Read: Luke 2:36-38
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
As the percentage of retirees in the population continues to grow, the quality of life for those in their later years becomes an increasingly important issue. As the number of older people increases substantially, talk rises about cost containment of government pensioner plans, such as Social Security in the United States. Governments and companies in bankruptcy struggle with how much they will provide in pensions and health care benefits for their retired workers. In a move to improve their profitability, many companies are offering less generous retirement plans or offer none at all, particularly to part-time or “contract” employees. At the same time, financial regulations allow people who are saving money for retirement to borrow against those savings for current needs, thus reducing the money that will likely be available to them at retirement.
Funding retirement plans was not an option when the books of the Bible were written. Looking out for the welfare of widows, however, has been a consistent theme in Holy Scripture (by the way, the plurality of retirees in our own age are women living alone). How we take care of the most vulnerable among us speaks volumes about our priorities. And it is not simply a matter of how much money is available to someone in retirement. Other issues are important. For example, do we want to encourage retirees to live independently (and consequently perhaps more expensively), or is there something to be gained by encouraging several different generations to live with one another in one household? This practice held sway in a pre-capitalist world.
We must address important questions about the aging members of our community. How are they involved in church? How are they cared for financially? How do we follow their health? Christians have lived as faithful witnesses in every economic era. How do we live as faithful witnesses in this one?
Look with mercy, O God our Father, on all whose increasing years bring them weakness, distress, or isolation. Provide for them homes of dignity and peace; give them understanding helpers, and the willingness to accept help; and, as their strength diminishes, increase their faith and their assurance of your love. This we ask in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(The Book of Common Prayer, p. 830)
Larry Benfield serves as the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas.