Principle 1- Older Adults’ Understandings of Christian Faith Vary Significantly

Post 2 of 11 in a series on the 10 Principles of Older Adult Ministry (banner image by Raul Petrie from Unsplash)

I have two friends, who are post-retirement and might be classified as active older adults. They approach their faith and life in vastly different ways. We’ll call them Jean and Karla for the sake of this article. Both are musical. Both attend the same church and are active members. Jean is Caucasian and Karla is African American.

Jean finds her connection to God through her work with immigrants. She is actively involved in advocacy work and service to this population, often housing immigrants released from detention in her home and escorting them to the airport to connect with family members in other parts of the country.

Karla finds her connection to God through gardening and baking for others. She is known for her pound cakes and is always delivering them to folks celebrating birthdays or other life marker events. She is a people person and dispenser of hugs and this time of physical isolation has been difficult for her.

In the past, developmental psychology would have placed these two women in the same category, because of their chronological age, but one can see from these brief descriptions that they live very different lives and consequently likely have very different beliefs about God’s work in the world and their vocation as disciples. They may share markers such as retirement, deaths of loved ones, and health challenges, but because of their life experience and faith journey, they are likely to have differing views on God, the church, prayer, and other issues of faith.

Dan Buettner, National Geographic Writer and Explorer, gave a TED talk in 2009, provocatively titled “How to live to be 100+.” In this talk he looks at Blue Zones in the world where people’s longevity is much greater than the average. One of these areas was on the northern portion of the main island of Okinawa. Here the older adults don’t have a word for retirement, but do for life’s purpose. It is “ikigai” roughly translated as, “what gets you up in the morning.” For Jean and Karla, it is clear what their “ikigai” would be based on the descriptions I have given. As you think about the older adults in your congregation, do they have a reason for getting up in the morning? Is it tied to their faith? How would this vocation link to their views on who God is and what the church should be? How might you differentiate the ways you approach older adults to more personalize the ways that you guide or walk alongside individuals on their pilgrimages of faith?

Last week, Joyce MacKichan Walker shared some resources from Lifelong Faith and elsewhere to address the growing population of older adults in our congregations. I’m adding to our resource lists with some denominational resources and curated collections and a Pew Research Study that gives a broad view of what older adults think of religion and specific questions of faith. Hopefully these offerings will build your library of resources, as we continue to think deeply about these principles of older adult ministry.

Resources for Older Adult Ministry

Some General Articles and Studies

Pew Research Study 2014 on Religious Landscape

Geller, Heather. “Seniors and Spirituality: Health Benefits of Faith” Elder Care Alliance (accessed 6/2021)

Great Senior Living publisher. “Spirituality and Aging: A Guide for Seniors on Faith, Meaning, and Connection” (accessed 6/21)

Denominational Resources

Christian Reformed Church– Various guides and tool kits for ministry with older adults and those who may be caring for them

Presbyterian Church in Canada– Various resources from this denomination including recent resources related to COVID 19 and older adults

Presbyterian Older Adult Ministry Network (POAMN)– Currently has recordings of recent webinars celebrating aging in different cultures

The Episcopal Church– Resources on Older Adult Ministry including on the topic of elder abuse

United Methodist Church– A blog post on creating a pen pal ministry between generations and the benefits for older adults

I’m sure there are many others. If I’ve missed particular denominational resources that you are familiar with, please feel free to pass these on to the learning community by commenting on this post or posting a resource within the Hope4CE Facebook group.

Kathy L. Dawson, Benton Family Associate Professor of Christian Education, Columbia Theological Seminary, Hope4CE Steering Committee Member

Picture Books in Ministry

Our Children’s Ministry Team is trying something new this summer.  We have been meeting online for over a year (as most of you have been, too).  We are going to start slowly restarting in-person worship and Sunday School.  We are requiring reservations for worship, which means not everyone will be able to come each Sunday.  This also means that the number of kids in Sunday School will be dramatically decreased, we will have a variety of ages (4-11) and we expect sporadic attendance.  We thought – this is a great time to try something a little bit more relaxed and open-ended. 

Our plan: (about 45 minutes)

  • After the Children’s Message, the kids will be dismissed with leaders to the front lawn of the church.  We will sit on foam squares, in the grass, in a circle.
  • Open with prayer and a couple, fun, camp-style songs. 
  • Introduce the book with “See, Think, Wonder” questions: show the children the cover of the book, ask what do you see?  What do you think this book is about?  What do you wonder about?”
  • Read the book. 
  • Ask a few “Wonder Questions”:  Where can we find God in this story?  What does God have to say to us through this story? How does Scripture tie-in to the story? 
  • End time together with something fun.  Chalk drawing, parachute play, bubbles, nature walk, spray bottle (water) art, hopscotch, 4-square, etc.

I asked educators and pastors to share their “best reads”, “Top 10” or “recommended titles” for this post.  I got a HUGE response.  The whole list of suggestions loaded in the “Files” on the Hope4CE Facebook Group and found below as an attachment

A couple of websites to check out:

  •  Compassionate Christianity shares their new Children & Youth Books & Resources Database. It is a searchable database of progressive books and resources.  These resources are great for ministry leaders, pastors, parents, and Sunday school teachers.  They have been classified by theme, age range, type of resource, and scripture passage to help facilitate planning.
  • Story Path from Union Presbyterian Seminary – you can search books by Revised Common Lectionary date, Scripture passage, or theme)
  • Picture Book Theology -last post was 2019 – but you can search books, authors, themes — there is A LOT of great info on this site

Why use Story Books or Picture Books to teach Sunday School?

From Picture Book Theology: (author Hanna Schock) We all learn through making connections. This very human strategy never ends. Ideas have to have something to attach to. The more attachments we can muster, the stronger the learning. Likewise, the more varied a concept’s attachments, the broader our understanding will be and the more likely we’ll be able to generalize our learning to new situations. Repetition of ideas leads to deeper learning. Strong, broad, and deep learning occurs when concepts are easily and quickly accessed in a variety of situations.

Below you’ll see the attached file curated from a variety of sources:

Whitford Recommended Books 2021

Jenni Whitford is a Certified Christian Educator in the PC(USA) and Director for Children’s Ministry at Worthington Presbyterian Church (Columbus, Ohio). She is also a member of the Hope4CE Steering Committee.

A Glimpse: What Fall Ministry Might Look Like

We’re starting a week on planning in a time of uncertainty by this reblog of another excellent post by Christine V Hides. Please share your own plans for the fall and what you are doing to prepare this summer either as a comment here or on the Facebook group page.

Christine V Hides

In the spirit of collaboration and modeling vulnerability, I am offering you a glimpse of the first iteration of our plan, designed in the shape of a teeter totter, able to pivot smoothly between gathered and online as needed. Here are the steps we took to get to our first iteration from which we will learn, adapt, and grow.

FYI,  I’m part of two upcoming planning webinars that will delve deeper into planning in these unpredictable times:

Step 1:

Remember your why. While just about everything has changed over the last few months, your ministry purpose has not. There are many ways to say it, but our purpose has always been to nurture disciples who know, love and serve God and in so doing transform our hearts, minds…

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A Time for Reflection: What are we learning?

Three months ago life as we had known it changed. Schools and church buildings closed. Stores and businesses shut down. Homes became offices for many.  We became even more aware of the “front line” workers in our communities and the risks they take to keep basic services in place.

Words and technology platforms that we used occasionally or hadn’t heard of before became part of our daily language. Many faced the realities of virtual worship: to stream or to record? Instrumental music or vocals? What tools do we need to pull it off?

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Is VBS to be part of your RE-ENTRY?

In 2020, being an “experienced” Vacation Bible School (VBS) staff or volunteer won’t automatically get you very far, at least not on the programmatic side. Nationally, Christian Educators are seeking out ‘bridge options’ to serve children and families during this between-time. They are choosing a creative mix of the virtual and the mundane. Some can be integrated into a unique, perhaps one-time (perhaps not) VBS venue. Examples include: creating short video clips via LOOM, a “daily bread dinner” story and cooking project, Godly Play sessions via Zoom, adapting an Easter “Ring-and-Run,” “Flat Jesus” narratives, or a Zoom game or art night.

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DIY Vacation Bible School

I know we are all in a bit of panic mode when it comes to our summer plans. We have no idea what the future holds with our large group gatherings and everything is confusing with some areas opening back up and some locking down further. I know VBS has been keeping me up at night wondering when and if. One thing I will not worry about is how.

A few years back I worked at a church that was in an area of about 5 other churches. I would see their VBS signs pop up and realize that we were all doing the same package and of course mine was the one later in the summer when all the other kids had attended other churches earlier. Who wants a repeat? I sat down with my committee to come up with a way to create a unique VBS that focused on the areas that our church was passionate about without losing our minds.

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And the Survey Says . . .

Sharon Ely Pearson shared the results of her ecumenical curriculum survey on her own blog. I wonder how your ministry matches or challenges these results.

Rows of Sharon

4006230793_9b2742c25e_oAn on-line survey was held on a voluntary based during June 2016 to learn what curricular programs were being used in congregations with children, youth, and adults. The survey was disseminated through e-mail and social media (predominately Facebook groups) and various organizational list-serves (Forma, APCE, CEF,AUCE, and the Christian Education Network of the ELCA). The construction and results of the survey was conducted by the research group of the Church Pension Group, the parent company of Church Publishing Incorporated. The analysis of the data is strictly mine, and I take all responsibility for its interpretation.

Godly Playcontinues to be the most used program with children, with Montessori-type programs used by 36% of churches. The other three types of curriculum were lectionary-based (25%), Bible story based (30%), and workshop rotation model (9%). Most churches use a variety of resources, combining and tweaking them…

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Christian Faith, the Bible, and Public Schools

My mother began her teaching career in the public schools in the early 1970s. Over the years, she has recounted the times when she was expected to read the Bible to students. She remembers lovingly sharing Bible stories and even praying with her elementary-aged students. However, as the years passed, those expectations changed, and by the time she retired a few years ago, she no longer read—and wonders if she would have been allowed to read—Bible stories to students.

There is no question that the role of the Bible and Christian faith in the public schools has changed dramatically over the last half century. Some of these changes have been for the better; others have been less positive. Still, it has left some wondering, “Is there a place for the Bible and Christian faith in American public schools today? And, if so, what is it?”

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The Village

Our story is so common, a 125 year old congregation, inner-city, wants to minister to the community around it, I’m sure you have heard it all before.

The Facts:
Our average attendance: 170ish
Average Sunday school was: 30ish (all in, all ages)
Most families attended once a month
We have a separate family chapel, attended by substantially more persons than Sunday school hour.

Our take away was that families are interested, but not in our traditional model.
We kept coming back to the old adage “it takes a village…”

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Make Room: A Big Picture View of Lent

When my children were very young I always looked forward to the changing seasons. Inside and outside the church, the turning of the circle brought new colors and sights and smells—plenty of opportunity to explore and create.

My little library of activity books kept us busy. But when it came to Lent I was never satisfied. The kids and I ironed grated crayon on to waxed paper to make stained glass crosses; we made purple paper chains, and hot crossed buns; we even blended and burned our own incense. But something was missing. Continue reading