Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture

Memorable moments and meaningful meetings: Reflections on the 10th International Conference on Ageing and Spirituality, June 2023, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, by Sally Mordike

16 Jun 2023 Sally Mordike

We’re not very good at facing getting older. Youth and beauty are held up as ideals that we must strive for at all costs (just think of the huge anti-ageing cosmetic industry!). We’re also not good at talking about death and dying, even though both are inevitable for every one of us. As we get older, does life still have meaning? Is there still something worth living for? The search for meaning is directly related to spirituality – which becomes increasingly important as we get older – yet in western society we can still feel uncomfortable talking about spirituality, often equating it with religion. For some, religion is an important part of their spirituality, yet spirituality speaks to the very core of our being, who we are, deep down, as human beings.

The field of spirituality and ageing is one of the most important areas of ageing healthcare, and the biennial International Conference on Ageing and Spirituality, which started in Australia in the year 2000, brings together researchers and practitioners from different parts of the world, to share knowledge and practice, ideas and support. Over the years the conference has enabled networking and connections to take place, and consequent publications have kept the conversation going in between. This field of study emphasises the importance of valuing, understanding, and providing meaningful care around spirituality in later life, especially as we navigate the changes in our world in the 21st century:  both in the experience of ageing, and in the function of spirituality and religion in society.

This year, the 10th International Conference on Ageing and Spirituality was held in the beautiful university town of Waterloo, in Ontario, Canada. The theme of this year’s conference was Challenges and Choices: Spirituality and dignity in later life. The context in which we are ageing is changing at an accelerating rate, and with every change comes opportunity and challenge: in changing life expectancy, prevalence of dementia, choices in medical care around dying and death, use of technology, societal demographics, and more. Therefore, more than ever, we needed to be looking at life meaning and how to support others to live well to the very last breath, and to engage in conversations about spirituality which focussed our attention on dignity and humanity, on effective and meaningful care, and on helping ourselves and each other to make life-giving choices when faced with ageing challenges.

Each keynote speaker, panel discussion, paper presentation, workshop, and round table discussion, as well as field trips and delicious mealtimes, provided wonderful opportunities to share research, knowledge and experience, as well as inspire and create meaningful connections for all who attended: connection with others who are in the same field, who share a desire for meaningful spiritual care for older people; connection with practical and effective strategies; and connection with ourselves around our own attitudes and challenges of ageing – both our own and those we dearly love or work with.

Often in this field we only have a small team of people around us who share our passion for spirituality and ageing, so it was delightful to meet with so many others doing the same type of work, in their own contexts and countries, and to be together in real time. Throughout the conference we listened and heard, thought and talked, discussed and digested different perspectives around ageing, with people from all around the world who were equally passionate, and shared the hope that we can find ways to support one another through the process of ageing.

Each conference delegate took away both philosophical and practical ideas, and more importantly, were refreshed in their own work and lives, as concerns and worries turned into shared conversations, caring collegial support, and new and renewed friendships. After years of not being able to travel, to finally be able to re-connect with people in person, to encourage and learn from one another, to share moments of joy and compassion, and of genuine, deep respect and love for one another, was simply wonderful.

Come along to the next CAPS webinar to hear highlights from the conference, and perhaps experience for yourself some of the stimulating discussion and warmth of fellowship!

To attend a free webinar looking at highlights from the conference, please register through Eventbrite.