|dc.description.abstract||Midlife is a period marked by transitions. Sudden or gradual changes in individuals’ circumstances and responsibilities can prove to be catalysts for personal growth and development. Re-evaluation of priorities and changes in faith may occur as people in midlife reflect on their lives and reassess their values, beliefs, achievements, desires and expectations. Midlife has the potential to be a time of rich discovery, exploration and spiritual growth. However, within the church in New Zealand this period of spiritual development receives relatively little attention. In many parishes the value of specific ministries to those in other stages of life – particularly to children, youth, young adults and the elderly – is readily accepted, but initiatives directly addressing the needs of people in midlife are less likely to exist, or even to be discussed. This project has sought to redress this situation by attending to the experiences and needs of churchgoers in midlife.
Qualitative interviews with people from three participant groups were conducted: twenty churchgoers aged between forty and sixty, from Presbyterian, Catholic and Anglican congregations; ten members of the clergy from the same denominations; and ten spiritual directors with clients in midlife. All participants described challenges and opportunities that had arisen for them in midlife, or that they had observed in members of their congregations or among their directees. Middle-aged Christians’ experiences of church were explored. The twenty churchgoers spoke about aspects of their church involvement that they valued and from which they derived support – including elements of worship services, fellowship with other Christians and participation in a range of small groups, ministries and programmes within and beyond their parishes – and also suggested ways in which the church might offer further support to people in midlife. Clergy and spiritual directors presented further insights into the pastoral and spiritual needs of Christians in this life stage, and identified specific challenges in attending to the issues raised. The desire for “something more” in life and in faith that often emerges at midlife was a recurring theme in these interviews. Denominational differences were noted, but were far outweighed by similarities in the perceptions and experiences of people from each of the three denominations included in this project.
Findings from the research revealed that churchgoers in midlife draw strength from their faith and support from the church, although many churchgoers in their forties and fifties find themselves somewhat overlooked, pastorally and spiritually. Midlife interviewees were actively involved in serving their parishes and their communities, and many had been proactive about seeking guidance and support for their own ongoing spiritual formation. The church can assist Christians in midlife to connect with God, connect with one another, and connect with the world by offering a range of corporate and individual worship opportunities, fostering relational depth within congregations, and equipping individuals with tools for their spiritual journey. Numerous possibilities that clergy and congregations could discuss and explore together have emerged from this research.||