Principle 4 – Relationship and Community are Key to Adult Faith Formation

Post 5 of 11 in a series on the 10 Principles of Older Adult Ministry (banner image by Raul Petrie from Unsplash)

Older adults find community in family, friends, “neighborhoods”, church, small groups, social gatherings, and the list goes on.  Being in relationships with these types of groups is so important as we age.  Most of us need to be in some sort of community and this is especially true of older adults. 

The fact is that older adults today are more engaged in learning and interested in contributing to their communities. Keeping older people involved in their community can substantially reduce the anticipated drain on financial, health care, and housing resources associated with an aging population.

A key issue in aging is social integration, the extent to which a person is actively connected and engaged with their family and community. Cross-cultural evidence shows that older adults are able to maintain a fairly high level of physical and emotional well-being when they have something considered valuable by others in their society, whether it be customs, skills, knowledge, or economic resources.

Today’s older adults want more than to simply “keep busy.” They want meaning. Meaning has to do with feeling that your life still matters (to yourself, at the very least) and that what you do makes sense. It has to do with the conviction that your life is about something more than simply surviving.

When my father died 3 years ago, it became of utmost importance to my siblings and myself to move my mother from her home of 51 years, the house I grew up in, to a new place.  Because so much of her life was tied to her life partner and to our home, this was going to be a difficult move.  My parents had been married for 64 years and so much of who my mom is was tied to my father.  They were a team and now she needed to develop new relationships and find new communities in which to participate.

While mom had wonderful support from her family, her friends and her church community, living on her own in a large house, was just not an option for her children.  She needed to be in a larger community where she would be in contact with others on a daily basis in order to build new relationships.

Studies have shown that as we age, we need communities even more.  Yes, most of us have the foundation of faith that we learned as children and young adults, but now, maybe even more than before, older adults need to be in community to continue to build on their foundational faith.  Learning does not just take place in the school aged years but in all of life.  Being in healthy adult relationships allows older adults the ability to share with one another all of life’s up and downs.

I am blessed to serve a congregation that has a healthy relationship with a Senior Adult Living Community.  This community offers a full continuum of living options.  During the pandemic, it was so hard for the residents as it was for the disciples of my congregation, to get in touch with one another.  The facility was on total lockdown to help keep their residents safe.  The isolation was unbearable for all!  What could the church do?  Normally 2 van loads of residents would be in worship every Sunday.  Normally, there would be at least 10 disciples who made weekly phone calls and visits to the residents.  Normally, those who were still driving would be at the church during the week for Bible studies, book clubs and other events.

The church had banners ordered to place on the lawn of the facility to show our love for both the residents and the healthcare workers.  The children of the church made pinecone bird feeders and delivered them to the various buildings to be hung outside so the residents could look outside and see God’s creation and know that they were still thought about and loved.

Being in relationship and in community and continuing to seek to learn in the last third of life is essential to adult faith formation.

Barbara Benton Flynt is the Director of Adult Education and Discipleship at The Brandermill Church in Midlothian, Virginia.  The Brandermill Church is a union congregation of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the United Methodist Church.  She is also a member of the Hope4CE Steering Committee.

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