"I have been – and remain – very grateful to you for your prayers and to God for his steadfast love. I have indeed seen his faithfulness."
Queen Elizabeth II, whose birthday we celebrate this weekend, wrote this in 2016 but it could be attributed to many of the older Christians today who testify to a lifetime of prayer and the faithfulness of God, something which has rarely felt as necessary to know as it is today.
So far, 2020 has not looked anything like we thought it would. And even the oldest in our communities have been shocked and surprised by how life has changed in just three months, despite decades of life experience stretching as far back as the Spanish Flu pandemic (for the very oldest), through depressions and wars, nuclear threat, climate change and multiple economic crashes.
One of the privileges of working for Pilgrims' Friend Society, a Christian charity that runs residential care homes and independent living housing schemes for older people is that I get to hear the stories of the faithful prayers of my elders. I know that, during the worst moments of the coronavirus outbreak, we saw faithfulness and persistence in prayer from many who live within the Pilgrims' Friend Society family. Although they were isolated and cut off from family and friends, many prayers were offered for those of us managing lockdown in the "outside world". They showed a faithful persistence in committing to the Lord their loved ones, their church families, their old neighbours, and friends from years gone by.
They reminded us that God sees the big picture because they too can see a bit of the big picture. For those of us who've only been treading this earth for 20, 30, 40, or 50 years, those who have done the extra miles of 80, 90, 100 years can look back and say, "Yes, the God who is faithful has done it." They know that He is bigger than global wars, nuclear atoms, and the foolishness of leaders. They know that He can calm the storms from generation to generation. They look back on a lifetime of the presence of God in moments of joy and sorrow, times of plenty and of little, times of company and isolation. If we could speak to each one of them they would have stories to tell of the faithful care of God the Father, the provision of Jehovah Jireh, and the peace of the God of all comfort.
During this season of trial, our older friends, relatives, and brothers and sisters in Christ also remind us that, though our times change and the world around us feels like shifting sands, God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Some of those who live in our homes and schemes have followed the Lord for close to 100 years, some of them were baptised as teenagers 80 years ago or responded to God's call to a lifetime of service.
They know that the God that they pledged themselves to in their earlier years is the same now. They know that the God before whom they said their marriage vows or to whom they uttered a prayer for travelling mercies as they embarked on a season of an overseas mission, or whom they knelt before as they were ordained, is the very God who watches over them as they wake now each morning. He is the God of all time, they remind us.
Sometimes it's easy to pity older people, those who have lost some of their physical or mental function and appear to spend their days in slumber. But they are not to be pitied as useless and unable to contribute. These are the people who have uttered prayer after prayer after prayer for the world the rest of us now inhabit - prayers which empowered them in one of the most trying times in generations.
As we mark the 94th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II, perhaps the most famous older person in the world, we give thanks for the faithfulness and persistent prayers of older people. This week Pilgrims' Friend Society has been asking people to pray for and with the older people in our communities – for their wellbeing, the impact of dementia and other issues, carers and the care sector, and the role of the Church in supporting them – but prayer for these communities doesn't stop here. As we look to our elders and witness their faithful persistence in prayer, let's follow their lead and commit to that same faithful persistence as we lift them to the Lord.
Alexandra Davis is Director of Marketing and Communications for Pilgrims' Friend Society, a Christian charity which runs residential care homes and independent living housing schemes in England and Scotland.