Interview on evangelism at the Anglicare villages

Leigh and Kim Windsor on their experience of evangelism and ministry in the ARV (Anglicare Villages) at Castle Hill.

ACR: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us! Firstly, how did you come to Christ?

Kim: I did not grow up in a Christian family, but my husband and I decided it would be good for our children to attend SRE Scripture at school so that they could make up their own minds about God. Our children became Christians through SRE classes. When this happened, our son was in Year 6, and our daughter was in Year 3. They didn’t tell us of course! Our son went off to high school where this same teacher taught SRE, and she gave him a book to read to help him in his Christian faith. I read it too as it was written by Cliff Richard, a pop star I really liked. The book contained many Bible passages, with comments by Cliff Richard on how they were really relevant today. By the time I had finished the book, I had come to realise that Jesus had died in my place and that he had risen from the dead, was the Lord of everything and unless I turned to him in repentance and faith, I was in big trouble. So I prayed and asked for his forgiveness and help to live his way. Then I started going to church. This was in 1987. I was 38. To my delight, my husband became a Christian a year later, thanks be to God. We could now go as a family to church.

Leigh: It started early in 1988, and very early one morning. I was 43 years old and going through a pretty intense bout of depression. Medication was helping, but my future didn’t really look like a place I wanted to go to. My wife, Kim, who had come to Christ in 1987, pointed out that part of my problem was I thought I had to control everything myself. My response was along the lines of, “Well if don’t, who’ll help?” I kind of knew she’d say something about Jesus, and she did. She said I should pray and ask him for help. Now, I wasn’t even sure Jesus was real, so I asked her, “If he’s even there, why should he want to help me? I’ve ignored him for the last 43 years.” Her reply was rather sharp; after all, it was very early in the morning! What she said was, “I don’t know, he just does.” Well, nothing else was giving me any hope, so that morning, in the shower, I prayed, “Jesus, if you’re there, please help me.” That prayer started a period of several weeks in which God used my wife and family and several people from Kurrajong Anglican Church to lead me, by Easter of that year, into a relationship with Jesus.

ACR: What brought you to the Anglicare Villages?

Leigh: We both have health issues now and we were attracted to being in a place where we were close to a good Bible teaching church, could live and ‘age in place’ independently, be well cared for and close to health services we might need, and be able to reach out to people with the gospel; even be encouraged to do so. Anglicare Villages at Castle Hill (or Anglican Retirement Villages (ARV), as it was when we came here) met, meets, and exceeds those criteria. We love it here, and it’s a bonus that our family knows that we’re well cared for.

Kim: With health issues, it seemed a good option for us to still be independent and age in place as long as we could and still be involved in some sort of Christian ministry and even be encouraged to do so, as Leigh said. Also we were closer to family and even if they were to move away, they could know we were well cared for. We live in a very comfortable apartment. No garden maintenance and no lawns to mow. But we look out on to the most beautiful red flowering gum and the gardens here are truly beautiful. And my Cymbidium orchid has been in flower for three months on our balcony and was enjoyed by many. Also I have a vegetable garden plot in the community garden on site which is a great source of joy to me. Here at Castle Hill there are 6 villages for the independent, and 5 residential care facilities for those who need more help. We love it, and there is so much we could be involved in if we had the energy! But we don’t have to if we don’t.

ACR: What kinds of ministries in the Anglicare Villages are you involved in?

Leigh: ‘On campus’, we’re both regulars at the Chaplaincy/residents’ weekly prayer meeting.

My regular ‘on campus’ activities also include a men’s Bible discussion group which meets twice a month and also arranges the ‘Insight’ talks. These are talks by non-resident, Christian speakers covering varying topics including current affairs and ‘hot’ issues, but from a Christian perspective; and often including ‘gospel’ talk. All residents, regardless of their faith, receive an invitation to these meetings and they’re usually very well attended.

I also meet weekly with a 90+ year old resident in one of the Residential Care Villages. He’s a long-term member of our church at Carlingford who loves his Bible and being taught from it, but finds it increasingly difficult, because of Parkinson’s disease, to get to church on Sundays. These get-togethers provide fellowship for both of us and give us a chance to listen to (and/or hear again) the sermon from Sunday, along with other Bible teaching material. In addition to the Sunday sermons we’re currently listening to our son Lionel’s ‘Lift Your Eyes’ podcasts on Ephesians (which also appear on the ACR blog (link) and the entire series can be found here (link) – Ed).

Kim: I did have many years’ experience leading Bible studies at my former church, so when I was asked to take over leading a Bible study for women in the independent village we live in, I was happy to do so. We meet in one of the social rooms. It is a good option for residents as it is close by, and residents can easily walk to it, even with walkers. Also we get to know other Christians here! We meet over a cuppa, read the Bible, answer our questions and pray. I consider this my main ministry. The women who come attend a variety of churches locally as well as the church on site, St James’ Chapel.

Once a fortnight I meet for a cuppa with a three other women who are on the younger side as I am and who moved in about the same time as I did. We thought it would be good to get to know each other if we were ageing together, and we have become good friends. We encourage one another to live for Christ and invite others as needed.

Last year I was a representative on the residents’ committee and learnt a lot about how the village works. It was most interesting. This year I am taking a break to give someone else an opportunity. But I may help in the library instead, or the White Elephant (op shop) or Ladies and Lavender (preloved clothing).

There are always lots of opportunities to sit with people and listen to their story. You never know where it might lead.

ACR: Tell us about some of the opportunities for the gospel that you’ve discovered? Aren’t most of the residents already Christians?

Kim: No, most of the residents are not Christians in our village, although many may have some church attendance in their past and many would consider they are Christian people. So the Bible study is actually a great way to help women understand it is by grace, not works, that we are saved and to help them to trust in Jesus and have assurance. We welcome newcomers and I try to keep coming back to the basic message of the Bible.  

Also as I chat to women around the village on a one-to-one basis there are always opportunities after listening to them to share my story. I also attend a weaving and spinning group on site which I love. Following complicated weaving instructions is good for the brain! A variety of residents attend. There are good opportunities to bring Christian thinking into the conversation.

Leigh: Although the percentage of Christians within the overall population here at the Anglicare Villages might be a bit higher than within the general population, I suspect the difference isn’t all that great.

Another of my weekly activities includes visiting men in one of the other Residential Care Villages on the Castle Hill site. After doing this for a couple of years, several of the men, Christian and non-Christian, seem to enjoy these brief, weekly chats (on all sorts of topics) and now they expect me to pray with and/or for them! That’s a rare privilege. My prayers with them usually include a request to God that he’ll bring them to (or strengthen them in) a saving trust in Jesus for their eternal futures.

In addition to these visits, and as a Chaplaincy volunteer, I coordinate and lead a weekly men’s social group (‘A League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’) in this same Residential Care Village. I’ve been doing this for a couple of years now and our average attendance is about 12 or 13 men – mostly non-believers. Typically, we’ll chat about current affairs, sport, pre-retirement careers and what’s wrong with the world; we’ll have some one-way activity (readings, talks or video presentations) and some mental stimulation activities: word games, trivia and the like. Part of my preparation for each week is working out how and where best, within the schedule, to present Jesus and challenge them with something he’s said. Lately, I’ve been reading Australian prose and Kel Richards’ little books, The Aussie Bible and Aussie Yarns and they have been very useful. (If anyone has copies of Kel’s Christian books that need a new home, I can provide one).

Other opportunities? For the last two years, and again this year, I’ve had the opportunity to be MC at our village’s Christmas lunches and dinners. They’ve been golden opportunities! I also do a fair bit of walking around the Castle Hill site and go to a twice-a-month, non-Christian men’s group (‘The Men’s Forum’) in our village. With friends in the Men’s Forum, and with people I meet when I’m out walking, I’ve found that topics which arise quite naturally in casual conversation are often about something that’s wrong with the world. And chatting about what’s wrong in the world is always an opportunity to ask a leading question; one which, for me anyway, often results in productive conversations. That question (with thanks to John Chapman) is, ‘What do you expect in a world that’s turned its back on God?’

ACR: What are some of the challenges and joys of evangelism in these kinds of contexts? 

Kim: There are the same kinds of challenges as are found anywhere else but the elderly are perhaps more set in their ways and less likely to take seriously someone like me who is a bit younger than them. Also I am not a chaplain! That is, I’m ‘not official’. On the other hand perhaps there is always that doubt in peoples’ minds that they are acceptable to God and this can lead to opportunities to share the gospel.

I was asked by one of the Chaplains to visit a couple who migrated from Cuba 40 years ago. They are in their late eighties! The woman, who had been educated by nuns many years ago in Cuba, wanted to know more about the “Anglican Religion”. Her English was still not so good but she wanted to read in English! So I began reading through Mark’s Gospel with her and she asked questions as we went along. She was really amazed that Mary wasn’t mentioned much. She had never read the Bible before! This lady has come to understand that Jesus died for her and risen from the dead, and she trusts in him. She now reads her Bible every day. She and her husband attend church at St James’ Chapel here on site every week. They are so encouraging.

Leigh: Really, I haven’t noticed that the challenges of evangelism are much different to what they were before we moved here. They’re mainly to do with me, my timidity and my insufficient trust in Jesus and his gospel as the power of God for salvation.

But those challenges paled into insignificance last year, when, by God’s grace, he used me as part of drawing a 90-year-old, ex-engineer and naval test pilot into a relationship with Jesus. As he put it: “into joining the Lord’s Army”. That’s the joy.

ACR: How are you working in partnership with local churches in this ministry?

Leigh: We’re both involved in ‘off campus’ activities. We’re members of the Sunday morning family service at St Paul’s, Carlingford and attend a St Paul’s Bible Study Growth Group during the week. I also catch up with a young Sydney pastor regularly.

Kim: We regularly attend a weekly prayer group run by the Chaplains at St James’ Chapel. The chaplain in charge is a Parish Partner from St Paul’s at Castle Hill and has had his own parishes in the past. This ministry has unusual challenges due to the age of the members of the church. We pray for many things but especially for the spread of the gospel here at Castle Hill.

Also, ‘Cafe Church’ is run every 2 months, reaching out to those who may not come to the church services on Sunday. We support that in prayer. They have interesting Christian speakers who have a story to tell. One example is Louisa Hope who spoke about the importance of ‘Hope’, specifically in light of her experience in the Lindt Cafe Siege 5 years ago. It is a good opportunity to invite someone.

ACR: What would you say to someone considering moving into a retirement village?

Leigh: A few things:

  • Keep in mind that a Retirement Village is quite different to a Residential Care Village/facility. For some residents, moving into a Retirement Village is merely changing one’s address.
  • Both Retirement Villages and Residential Care facilities have received bad press in recent times. For Retirement Villages, it’s had a lot to do with the financial arrangements involved. So, seek financial and legal advice so that you know what services you’re entitled to and what it will cost you if you have to opt out of your contract/agreement.
  • Consider whether or not the environment and lifestyle in a specific retirement village are really what you want – speak to residents.
  • As far as we’re concerned, we’re very happy here at the Anglicare Villages at Castle Hill; not in the least because we don’t have to concern ourselves with property maintenance.

Kim: Check out the Anglicare villages. We are glad we moved when we did. It’s a big mission field! And we are very grateful for the support given by staff and chaplains to share our faith.