Community, connection, caring : towards a Christian feminist practical theology of older women
Christian feminist theologians state that community, connection, and caring are the means by which women live their lives and through which women understand and express their faith. These theologians also claim that their theologies are based on women's expeniences. In this thesis I ask, are the ideas of community, connection, and caring proposed by these theologians relevant to older women in Britain today? Are older women's experiences reflected in Christian feminist theologies? Should there be a separate theology of older women based on these concepts? I explore these questions first by considering ideas of community, connection, and caring put forward by feminists and Christian feminist theologians and then by comparing these ideas with the lived experiences of older women themselves. These experiences are gathered from the field of social gerontology as well as from new empirical research: semi-structured interviews with 40 churchgoing Methodist and Anglican women in York, aged 65 and over. Data analysis indicates that community, connection, and caring are important and desirable aspects of older women's lives, and that the family and the local church are significant sources of these entities and processes. In this respect, older women's experiences are reflected in Christian feminist theologies, although this appears to be more by default than by design. In addition, their experiences (for example, of being a newcomer to a church congregation or of working to maintain an identity as a carer in a society that views them as recipients of care only) are not universally positive, adding dissenting voices to the largely enthusiastic assertions of the theologians. Consequently, I propose a move towards a Christian feminist practical theology of older women-a theology based on older women's experiences of community, connection, and caring and calling for informed, committed praxis by the churches, suggestions for which are offered. Such a feminist theology would complement other developing theologies and spiritualities of older women. At the same time, it would be flexible and provisional, taking on board new developments and data as they arise-particularly as succeeding generations of women age-and intentionally incorporating them.