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17 April 2013

As the 500-strong congregation gathered in Coventry Cathedral to mark MHA’s Platinum anniversary, there was an air of both joy and reflection. Joy that the charity created in 1943 at the Methodist Conference had lasted so long and to the benefit of so many older people, thanks in no small part to the support of the Methodist Church. And reflection on how this crucial work could continue into the future as the population ages and older people’s needs change.

MHA’s Service of Thanksgiving was a celebration of everything the charity has achieved since its inception 70 years ago, an account of its history, and a view to the future on how it might continue to grow, inspired by Christian concern. It was led by MHA’s Director – Chaplaincy and Spirituality, Revd Dr Keith Albans, and the preacher was Baroness Kathleen Richardson, one of MHA’s Patrons. Among the honoured guests was the Vice President of the Conference, Michael King, who read from Joshua 14: 6-14 - recounting how Caleb enjoyed great vigour in old age thanks to his dedication to the Lord. Prior to the commemoration, MHA had received messages of support and congratulations from well-wishers including the Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu, Dame Judi Dench and Baroness Joan Bakewell.

Throughout the service, different elements of Methodist Homes’ care over 70 years were brought to the fore, illustrating how MHA has been a witness to the values and vision of the Methodist Church in a partnership that makes a significant difference to the lives of older people. The prayers and hymns, including MHA’s 70th Anniversary Hymn (specially written for the occasion by the Revd Gareth Hill, who attended the service), showed MHA’s dedication to spiritual well-being. All residential settings have a designated Chaplain to offer spiritual and pastoral support to residents and their families, however they may require it.

Throughout the service, MHA’s partnership with the Church was celebrated. This includes thousands of volunteers who enhance MHA’s work. They were highlighted in an account of MHA’s history, delivered by individuals including Rev Stephen Wigley, District Chair and son of MHA’s past CEO David Wigley, and Susan Howdle, a previous Chair of MHA’s Charity Board. The congregation was reminded: “The gift of time, given by so many volunteers, adds something to both Live at Home and Residential projects – something recognised by the receipt of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Volunteering Award.” (MHA was also named Best Residential Care Provider last year at the Laing & Buisson Independent Healthcare Awards.) The need for volunteers in Live at Home Schemes that support people living independently, was acknowledged. ”Now celebrating their Silver Jubilee, the first scheme in Lichfield has a thriving membership and a fantastic group of volunteers, and is one of more than 70 such schemes… The effectiveness of Live at Home has been backed up by recent independent research, showing that it helps promote independence in its members, and relieves the need for local healthcare services as members enjoy improved mental, physical and emotional well-being.”

In her sermon, Baroness Richardson, whose mother-in-law and husband were both residents in MHA homes, outlined the charity’s person-centred dementia care, including the provision of Music Therapy.

“I think people who don’t go in our homes may be very surprised at the amount of fun that goes on for people who are in the stages of dementia,” she said. “It is about finding a way of unlocking the human person deep within everyone.

“MHA does not become diminished by age. It grows and strengthens, constantly renewed by new thoughts, new people, new ideas, new initiatives.”

Dr Albans told the Methodist Recorder: “This event gives us an opportunity to pause, reflect and thank God for the last 70 years. It is particularly good to have the participation of representatives from earlier chapters of the MHA story, as well as people using MHA services today, because every generation of MHA has built on what’s been built before, right back to the inception at the Methodist Conference in 1943.”

With 70 years behind it and the entire future stretching ahead, MHA remains committed to growing along with the changing needs of older people, nurturing physical, mental and spiritual well-being. A line from Mr Hill’s hymn seems particularly apt: “Make your Church a living witness to the work that Christ began.” The question MHA asks itself now is, “Threescore years and then….?”

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