Outdoor Sunday School-A Nursing Perspective

I live in Austin, Texas, and attend Central Presbyterian Church in downtown Austin. I run the children’s program under the associate pastor as well as teach Godly Play. During the week I am a pediatric home health nurse. I work nights fifty hours a week for a patient who is severely immune compromised, the common flu or RSV sends my patient to the (P)ICU. When I went into isolation March 13th, 2020, I did not know it would be 15 months until I would see any of my church family again.  

We reopened June 13th, 2021, with masking HIGHLY encouraged for everyone and the first thing I did when I sat down in the pews again was look out the windows and see some of my kids. I got right back up and went outside to be with them, because that is where I have always been called to be in the church, with the children.  

I wanted to be there for the kids and return to some sense of ”normal,” so I began brainstorming how to best restart our Godly Play program. Over the lockdown I had been writing a small synopsis for our e-blast with YouTube links for videos of that week’s story. I didn’t do Godly Play live during quarantine because it felt like it was one more thing for parents to feel obligated to chaperone and I liked the idea of them being able to do it on their time. When we were able to come back together I wanted to do so in the safest way possible and that was never going to happen in doors.  

I was vaccinated, but the vaccine was not available (and still is not currently available, but might be, come October! *fingers crossed*) for children at that time. So the safest place for us to meet was outside. The only problem? It was summer in central Texas with temperatures consistently in the 90’s. That first Sunday back while talking to some of the parents on the playground I threw around the idea of restarting Godly Play outside. There is this space in our playground that used to have swings, but those were torn down a few years ago due to safety concerns (they were falling apart). The area was constantly in the shade between the fellowship hall and a neighboring parking garage. It was at least 5 degrees cooler there. I got an old quilt for us to sit on (that I washed every week) and encouraged everyone to bring their own water bottles (or provided individual ones). Our fellowship hall was right there if anyone needed a few minutes of AC and I decided not to provide snacks. When I was out of town I would let everyone know a week or two in advance and decided against having a substitute. I continued to send the YouTube videos via blast for those who were still unable to join us. All of these precautions I took to heart very seriously for the safety of my patient and our children‘s health.  

Two months later Austin returned to a level 4 and quickly a level 5 and I had to tell the pastor that I no longer felt like it would be safe to conduct Godly Play in person again with the rise in cases and the severity of the Delta strain. These are by no means the only ways to keep our little ones safe and to keep spreading the stories of the Bible, but they were the ones I made for me and mine because I love these children and want only to do the best by them as much as I am able. 

Benita Alice “Allie” Barden, RN, Austin, TX

Monument to Hope

Hope4CE is marking the 20th Anniversary of the events of September 11, 2001 with a recorded service of testimony and reflection found here. One the generous people who submitted a video testimony was Chef Rossi, who also blessed us with this article on her experiences, as well. You will also find a file of the adapted liturgy we used for this service at bottom of this article for use in your own faith communities. We hope you find this as meaningful as we did. (Feature Photo is of memorial at Ground Zero in New York)

On September 11th 2001 I was a twenty-something year old chef with a new, but growing catering company in New York City. It was a beautiful morning. The sun was radiant, the air crisp. I was looking forward to spending time on the roof deck. Then the world as we knew it ended.

I watched the towers burn from my roof. Then the impossible happened. Like a deck of thousands of silver cards, the first tower collapsed.

I’d never heard the sound I heard after the tower fell: thousands of people screaming.

The empty space in the sky became a monument to loss.

A few days later, I walked to South Street Seaport. The security guards at Seaman’s Church, knew me from my time catering there. They yelled, “We got a chef!”

Chef Rossi at Seaman’s Church, Ground Zero in 2001

“Send her to St. Paul’s!” A fireman shouted.

They handed me a yellow hard hat and paper mask and put me in the back of a pickup truck.

The truck made its way through police barricades, ruined cars and piles of debris. The air was so thick with dust, it felt as though it were snowing.  It stopped in front of an old church.

Two flustered women were flipping burgers on two small backyard barbecues. They were only too happy to step aside. I flipped burgers all day, into the night.

They said we fed a thousand first responders that day.

I came back the next day and the next and the next. I roped in my friend Brian to help.

On September 18th, Brian and I talked about how surreal it felt to spend Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, at Ground Zero.

As we were talking, a man in an Army uniform with a long white beard started to recite the Rosh Hashanah prayers.

We’d made it to services after all.

The Army rabbi took out a shofar from his bag.

“Te-ki-ahhh!” said the rabbi and blew.

“She-va-riiiim!” sung the rabbi and blew three pulsating blasts.

The horn’s mournful cry rose up over the burnt wreckage of the towers, the paper and dust covered tombstones in St. Paul’s cemetery and the firefighters in the tent near The Pile.

I thought of the volunteers who took turns hiding in the wreckage so the dogs that had grown despondent from days of finding no survivors could sniff them out. Everyone cheered as each volunteer was found and the German shepherd barked in glee.

I thought of the silver-haired fireman who’d driven from Cincinnati to join the bucket brigade.

“Do you know anyone who was lost?” I asked.

“We’re all brothers today,” he responded.

I looked at the empty space in the sky.

“Monument to hope.”

Chef Rossi, writer, chef, public speaker, and blogger based in New York City.

Recorded Service Link and file of liturgy from recorded service adapted from PC(USA) worship resources for the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

Principle 10: Older Adults Show Increasing Openness to the Online, Digital World for Faith Formation

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

Not all older adults have the resources or desire to engage in an online world, but let’s talk about the ones that do.

When our building had to close in 2020, people of all ages had to decide how they could continue some of their favorite parts of church life. 

Our church had already been livestreaming one Sunday service for several years.  Many members had already figured out how to watch on a week when various reasons – health, weather, travel – kept them away from the sanctuary. Others had never considered worshipping in front of a tv or computer. 

 

Through guiding phone calls and even personalized video tutorials, families and friends reached out to help older adults learn how to connect.  Many had tablets or even Roku and just needed a little guidance to be ready for Sunday morning. This one step forward gave many people the courage to keep exploring and see how they could continue to connect. It seems that many have fully embraced faith formation in this new way and are encouraging each other onward. 

Our church began offering mid-week videos with prayers by the staff.  The Formation team created video Lectio Divina practice five days a week.  Many members visited the church website for the very first time in order to connect.  The weekly church email became a lifeline featuring links to these various offerings.  

Even the Monday morning prayer group – which has been around for decades – decided to give Zoom a try.  Members ranged in age from early 50s to late 80s.  The attendance has actually increased as those who weren’t necessarily morning people realized they could just roll out of bed and join in.  All winter long there was never a week we had to be concerned about icy roads and deciding if the group needed to be canceled.

The 8am Sunday morning adult education class also reached all time high in attendance with those non-early risers joining in.  The class leader could give the normal introduction to the day’s topic, share his screen to show documents and then divide the class into smaller groups for discussion.  

An evening Bible study that switched to meeting on Zoom has decided to stick with this virtual option into the future. Two members of the study made the big decision to move out of town to live near children during the pandemic. They are thrilled to remain connected to their old group because of this new way of interacting.

A sermon discussion group over Zoom is another way adults of all ages have connected. There is no book to try to order and organize.  The written text from the sermon is emailed in advance with numbered paragraphs to aid in the discussion.  There is also no worry about driving in the dark of the winter evenings.

Our Theologian in Residence took what would normally be a 6-week evening study and created videos for an asynchronous offering.  Each week he posted a summary page and list of questions.  Discussion groups formed throughout the week on Zoom.  These series have been well received with all ages embracing this new digital option.  

Many older adults are grateful that the building closing for a time encouraged them to put fear aside and give something new a try.  They are in turn encouraging their peers to join this digital community and the possibilities seem endless. 

Ann VanMeter is a 26-year member of Second Presbyterian Church, Indianapolis, IN. She has served as an Elder, a Deacon, Bible Study Leader, VBS Chair, and is currently on staff in an interim position with the Formation team. She will happily tell you that she has church friends of all ages, ranging from 1 year old to 91 years old.

Principle 9: Helping Others is a Deep Desire of Older Adults

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I love TikTok. It is a bit of a guilty pleasure.  Several times a week, I contemplate taking the video sharing, social media app off my cell phone because I can easily spend hours scrolling through one-minute dance and pet videos. But one of the reasons that I have resisted deleting the app is the unexpected intergenerational aspect. I absolutely love seeing the #over70club share videos dispensing wisdom, recipes, advice, and dance routines.

Many of the videos that pop up on my “For You” page are older adults offering encouragement and blessings for youth and young adults who feel overwhelmed by societal expectations and demands. While most comment sections on the internet can be awful and negative places, the comments on the videos of these older adults can be surprisingly wholesome. Ranging from “I really needed this message today” to “We must protect this grandpa at all costs,” the comments almost always offer affirmation and appreciation for the offerings of these content creators. In these small online interactions, I see something that our culture is hungry for: the wisdom, help, and the blessings of older adults.

In Malidoma Patrice Some’s The Healing Wisdom of Africa, she cites “the power of blessing” as one of the primary duties of an elder in the Dagara Community of West Africa; a responsibility that is only given to the old and wise. An elder’s assistance and blessing are vital to the functioning of the entire community. Bestowing a blessing gives the elders a sense of purpose and call in older age, while also offering much needed perspective to the younger in the village.

In my own work as a hospice chaplain, I have seen how this sense of call and purpose extends throughout the end of life. “I just don’t want to be a burden,” is one of the things I hear most often when I am caring for people in hospice. After lengthy conversations, I have come to see that the concern is more nuanced than it seems on its head. Underlying the fear of being a burden is also a strong desire to be a blessing, even when death is near. Plagued with life limiting illness, so many people still want to find ways to offer love, hospitality, and blessings to those around them and beyond. Witnessing the enduring call of Christ’s discipleship even for those in hospice care has been deeply inspiring and sustaining to me. With vision, care, and creativity, I have found that there are always ways to ensure that older adults feel like a blessing, not a burden.

While the blessings of older adults need not be contained in one-minute TikTok videos, I do think those short videos can be instructive for the Church in harnessing the service and gifts of older adults. One of our roles in Christian education can be providing specific, time bound opportunities for older adults to be of service that emphasize blessing, story, and connection. And a little dancing never hurts.

Zeena Regis is a chaplain, consultant, and writer. She worked in hospice and palliative care as a chaplain and bereavement coordinator for close to a decade. She is the founder of The Threshold Planning Project and is passionate about ensuring all people have access to quality and culturally-responsive end-of-life/grief support and resources.

Principle 8: Multi-generational contact for learning and relationships are highly valued by many older adults

Post 9 of 11 in a series on the 10 Principles of Older Adult Ministry (banner image by Raul Petrie from Unsplash)

Older adults are not the only ones who benefit from multi-generational interactions. Faith formation research has begun to demonstrate how important intergenerational experiences are for people of all ages.[i] Often, though, our church programs are divided by age group. Prior to the pandemic, worship was sometimes one of the only activities in the church in which people of different generations regularly participated together. Multi-generational ministry should not be isolated just to worship.

How can the church offer more ministry opportunities that cross generational lines, building authentic relationships and benefiting all ages? Sometimes it’s as easy as seeing what skills or experience older adults have and matching those with needs in your ministries for children, youth, or younger adults. One church preschool has what they call VIPs (Very Important People) who volunteer to read to children, cut out and copy items for teachers, or help during center and snack time. The older adults love interacting with the young children. Special relationships are built that continue outside of preschool. When you plan programs for children and youth, be intentional about inviting older adults to participate in ways they are able. This could include chaperoning a mission trip, serving in the nursery, being a confirmation sponsor, volunteering to help a family with new twins, or writing birthday cards to the younger children in your congregation. It takes broadening our expectations of who can serve in particular ministries and listening to the needs, gifts, and limitations of our older adults to find ways they can serve. You may be surprised to find that special life-long relationships are built between people of different generations through these ministries.

Churches should also intentionally plan ministry opportunities where several generations learn, serve and grow together. Your church might plan a church-wide mission day that gathers people of all ages in small groups to serve together. Some ideas are baking cookies for community helpers, sewing blankets for the children’s hospital, or packing “Gift of the Heart” kits for Church World Service. During the pandemic, some churches began pen pal programs with families with young children or teens and isolated older adults. This type of “Adopt-a-Grandparent” program can foster relationships that last for many years, bringing joy to everyone involved. Some congregations offer grandparent/grandchild camp, a VBS type experience for children and older adults (either biological or adopted) to hear and respond to Bible stories together, learning from each other along the way. One church offers “Sharing our Stories of Faith,” an opportunity for adults from 18-100+ to share their faith stories in a multi-generational group. It has brought together adults of all ages for deep faith conversations, allowing them to better understand those of different generations and consider ways to support and nurture each other.

What ways might your congregation intentionally bring together older adults with those of other generations to more fully live into the kingdom of God on earth?

Kathryn McGregor, Director of Christian Education at Unity Presbyterian Church in Fort Mill, SC. She supports both children and adult faith formation at Unity, striving to provide opportunities for multi-generational relationship building throughout her ministry.

[i] Roberto, John. “Envisioning the Future of Intergenerational Faith Formation.” Lifelong Faith, Lifelong Faith Associates.

Principle 7- Many Highly Significant Life Transitions Occur in the Last Third of Life

Post 8 of 11 in a series on the 10 Principles of Older Adult Ministry (banner image by Raul Petrie from Unsplash)

“These are key opportunities for fostering spiritual exploration, inviting growth, empowering resilience, developing coping strategies, providing special care, connecting to a small group with similar changes or needs.” (Joyce MacKichan Walker-Principle 7)

Some of Rev. Joyce MacKichan Walker’s earlier principles highlight the wide variations that can be found within older adults (e.g. understandings of Christian faith, and religious-spiritual identities and needs). A person’s condition, for their age is also subject to wide variation; we all know people who we regard as young for their age while others are deemed “old” for their age.  While few, if any, of us like to think about or discuss growing older, the silver lining is that it is arguably the one and only thing that unites us as humans, irrespective of color, race, creed, geography etc.  So, maybe it is a worthwhile subject to not only embrace but also talk about with our fellow humans.  After all, we quickly find that we have a lot in common!  If we think in a counter-intuitive manner about aging, we first start to realize that becoming old is a privilege that not all humans get to experience. Moreover, despite our declining mental and physical abilities, we can start to discover, recognize and use our spirituality so that it becomes our “front and center” sustainer in our “Third Thirty” years.

Chart from Chris Pomfret’s workshops on the Third Thirty

Inevitably, “events” will happen in our Third Thirty.  Perhaps the historic reluctance to think or talk about aging is because we know these events (illness, loss of spouse, falls, etc) will occur at some stage; we just don’t know when, but we know that the clock is ticking.  Additionally, our egos are fed by our continuing to conduct activities that we have previously performed (climbing ladders, yard work, driving ….. ).  Our spirituality, deep within us, can help us to accept the loss of physical or mental acuities with grace and peace of mind.  It can also help us to be at peace with the finality of life and to find the strength and will to prepare everything so that our loved ones have an easier time after our death.  By gracefully accepting that our abilities are declining, we can find the means to accept help when offered, or ask for help, rather than our intuitive egos believing that to do so is a sign of weakness. The counter-intuitive result of accepting help or asking for help is that we give to the person assisting us; how wonderful is that?!

Our spirituality can also help us determine when the right time is to let go of doing certain tasks by being mindful and “listening to our body”.  We thus become willing to let go of things that we have previously believed to be important, be they material things or past grudges.  Uppermost for many of us will be the courage to stop driving when the time comes and feel at peace that life can indeed go on without being at the wheel. We can also pass on legacies and experiences either by writing them down as a “life review” exercise or by creating precious memories with loved ones by carving out time, one-on-one, with them and story-telling.  All these things take mindfulness and conscious acceptance of the stage of life that we are in.

The reality is that many more transitions will likely occur in our Third Thirty than happened in our second thirty. Finding and using our spirituality can help us to accept that unwelcome fact, and do the things to prepare as much as we can for the final third of life to be as enjoyable for ourselves and our loved ones as possible.

Chris Pomfret is a retired aerospace engineer and business owner, who decided as a result of watching his parents age, that we needed to be much more conscious of the challenges of aging before it becomes too late. Chris thus started “The Third Thirty” in 2012, a curriculum to encourage people to think, plan, and prepare for aging and adopt a positive hands-on approach, instead of ignoring the realities of later life. Chris lives in New Orleans with his wife of 42 years and has two grown children.

A Note from the Editor: Chris Pomfret’s curriculum, “The Third Thirty” is available free of charge, by contacting him either through the Hope4CE contact page on this site or through a private message to him directly on Facebook.

PRINCIPLE 6 – OLDER ADULTS HAVE A VARIETY OF PREFERRED WAYS OF LEARNING; BUT WILL TRY NEW WAYS TO ENGAGE

Post 7 of 11 in a series on the 10 Principles of Older Adult Ministry (banner image by Raul Petrie from Unsplash)

Priscilla Sitienei in class

A 90-year-old midwife in rural Kenya who could not read or write decided to go to school with six of her great-great-grandchildren to learn to read and write so she could journal and pass down her experiences and knowledge to the next generation.  “Education has no age limit,” said Priscilla Sitienei, the 90-year-old Kenyan midwife.[1] 

In March 2020, our church, like many across the country, stopped in-person gatherings.  Within weeks, our older adult class on Sunday mornings stopped meeting.  “Zoom is too difficult,” some said.  By fall, however, they longed so deeply for relational contact with their class peers that they trained and learned how to use Zoom for classroom gatherings.  Within months, members now confident with their newly learned computer skills were helping others use Zoom – and they were using Zoom to connect with their extended families!

We all have preferred ways of learning, but if there is one constant in older adult lives, it is change.  Physical, cognitive, social, or financial, changes are real.  A heart attack, diminished eyesight, death of a significant other, reduced income, slowed memory, each of these often force older adults into new ways of living, but older adults adjust, change, often try new ways to engage in their daily routines, their passions, their relationships, and even to challenge their mind and just do something different.  It is important for the church to create a supportive culture for growing old, while at the same time thinking about new ways to do old things.

Alice Updike Scannell, in her book Building Resilience: When There’s No Going Back to the Way Things Were, identifies five conditions that help adults navigate resilience: self-awareness, supportive relationships, openness, reflection, and humor.[2]  While these conditions help older adults with resilience, they are important for the church to cultivate in an environment where older adults can navigate new ways of learning.  Self-awareness helps us know ourselves and strengths and needs.  We can feel free to ask for help.  Supportive relationships encourage us even when we think we cannot.  Openness is the gate to doing things in new ways.  Reflection helps us see where we are in the present.  And we all need a bit of humor so we can take ourselves lightly.

A little resilience humor…

So, if we have an environment conducive to learning, what are some ways we can begin to engage older adults in learning in new ways?  Here are some specific examples of adapting preferred ways of learning:

  • When reading eyesight diminishes, introduce hearing stories through audio books.  Ask a volunteer to read aloud.  Consider telling a story through pictures.
  • TV screens too small?  Use a projector to enlarge the picture.
  • Use a microphone instead of shouting.
  • Do mixers that do not require standing but create camaraderie around the table.
  • Intentionally group people.  No one is to be alone.
  • Connect young people with older adults to teach useful “how to” skills in using technology.
  • Offer opportunities for older adults to learn new skills, such as drawing, photography, finances, meditation, gardening, using the computer.
  • Use different multiple intelligences when teaching a lesson.
  • Keep the pace slow; allow time to pause and reflect.
  • Offer mission and service opportunities that specifically engage older adults.
  • Write instructions (or reminders) on paper.
  • When doing activities, offer choices that have different required skills.

When I work with older adults, I often try to use an activity from Barbara Bruce’s Mental Aerobics: 75 Ways to Keep Your Brain Fit.  These simple, yet challenging activities (ice breakers), engage older adults in fun, interactive ways.  My rules: 1) always have fun, 2) always do it in groups (so everyone feels smarter or can laugh together), and 3) build relationships.  Most older adults will try new ways to engage if they feel supported, encouraged, and work with someone.

Dan Wiard, Director of Christian Education, Mount Pleasant Presbyterian Church, Mount Pleasant SC and Member of Hope4CE Steering Committee

[1] https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20170828-the-amazing-fertility-of-the-older-mind. (Accessed June 15, 2021)

[2] Updike Scannell, Alice.  Building Resilience: When There’s No Going Back to the Ways Things Were. New York: Morehouse Publishing, 2020. 7.

Principle 5-Diversity of Programming Provides the Depth to Engage a Breadth of Situations and Circumstances

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This includes a great variety of housing situations, and “family” relationships

How does the church program for “older adults?” Joyce MacKichan Walker, Retired Church Educator/Pastor, Princeton, New Jersey reminds the church in “Principle 5: Diversity of programming provides the depth to engage a breadth of situations and circumstances,” (HOPE4CE website). What if the changes and disruptions of today are really “Kin-dom times?” Current day demographics, extended lifespans, and technology redefine for us what “Diversity of programming” might look like.  It can be diverse generational configurations, a variety of engagement, and point of access/engagement. Parallel programming for discrete segments of the congregation gives way to integrated programming rife with collaboration.

“Children and Family” programming no longer targets exclusively twenty to fifty something year old adults.  Adoptive, fostering, and multi-generational households have blessed the church with grandparents, aunts, and uncles being primary caregivers. Older adults such as Fred are helping with on-line schooling and learning through their nieces/nephews/grandchildren how to use electronic classroom software.  Perhaps the traditional “Christmas Pageant” for young children now looks like a zoom gathering where children tell the story and older adults such as Martha participate as sheep, lamb, angels, and innkeepers. Perhaps like Mary, who is in her spry 80’s, a widowed member of the congregation, drops by VBS to see if they need another hand.  She woke up and “the Holy Spirit just told her she was needed.” Perhaps like Margaret, a single and retired member of the congregation, one joins on-line Bible Study and Prayer Groups even though she may no longer attend in person – whether for reasons of a present pandemic or being more house bound due to mobility issues.

What the church knows for sure is that congregating is a form of communicating.  Programming facilitates that communication.  Whether we do so in person, on-line, or by mail the followers of Jesus Christ hold onto the early tradition of sharing good news through letters and other long-distance communications.  Current church programming which targets older adults, maintains connections irregardless of “ages and stages.” Learning and dependence are no longer limited to one age or one stage.  If Elder Mark cannot figure out how to “unmute” himself, odds are that the ten-year-old in the group can help him. The church is challenged to program for older adults by embracing the reality of caregiver and care needer, by seeing the reversal of adults as experts and engaging children as teachers, and moreover by finding new ways to communicate that our older adults are needed and able. Traditional roles are upended, as the gospel often tells us will happen, when the kin-dom of God is at hand.

Kathryn, “Kat,” is the Coordinator of Children’s Ministries at Second Presbyterian Church of Indianapolis.  She collaborates across the church’s ministry areas to create programs with a “child-sized-bite” of the congregation’s service, formation, mission, and worship. She is also a member of the Hope4CE Steering Committee.

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

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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.

Principle 3-Faith Formation Is Concerned with All of One’s Life

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I work primarily with children and youth and in many churches with the budget, there will be a dedicated person like me on the paid staff. We are there to walk along with the young people as they begin their faith journey. We are there for the emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual needs during those important ages and stages. The things is, this journey is for life. It never ends. We are always learning, exploring, questioning, and needing someone to walk alongside us. As adults we plan a little more of that journey on our own. Gathering for Bible studies, worshipping, involving ourselves in committees with some Pastoral Care to help us when times are tough.

But what about those of us who are getting older and we begin to have varying degrees of mobility and energy? When we cannot engage in the ways we used to, how will the church walk alongside us then?

I know that in early retirement we often get a burst of energy in our congregations. People suddenly have more time to share their talents, attend Bible studies, and serve on committees. Then comes the next stage when mobility, transportation, and even medical issues can limit our involvement or may require some assistance from others.

I worked at a church who was blessed to have a Parish Nurse. I was in awe of the work she did. From taking tours of assisted living facilities with our members, to helping them secure in-home medical equipment, to driving them to doctors appointments, to setting up groups to share their grief, she worked tirelessly to meet the needs of our older members. Still engaging them and connecting them to their beloved community. It was amazing how many people relied on her and grew to love her so. Not unlike my job with youth, our older congregants may need a little more assistance on that faithful journey.

Creative Commons-University of Maryland

As churches, it is important that we are still meeting those important needs of our members as they step into a new season of their lives. This is why I think intergenerational ministry is so important. It feeds spiritual needs of all ages. It connects us to one another and to God. Faith formation is concerned with all of one’s life, but the needs may not be so different. As you think about your adult educational opportunities for the fall, I encourage you to think about ways you can cross the generations.

  • Older members make wonderful Confirmation mentors
  • Have your older members share their stories with your youth and children as part of Sunday school
  • Create opportunities for all ages to break bread together
  • Participate in a service project together
  • Have a monthly or quarterly intergenerational Sunday school
  • In our church we have 2 weekly caregivers, who members and friends of our church can contact throughout the week for meals, rides, prayer, whatever. It is a great way to connect our congregation while taking care of one another.

I encourage you to create environments where everyone learns from each other. Of course we have things like VBS and Sunday school where we need volunteer teachers. Those are always powerful ways to connect the generations. I also encourage you to create the above opportunities where we gather and are community together. Young learning from older and older learning from our wise young people.

Faith formation can be cultivated in many ways. Ann teaches Bella and Nash a new skill. Bella and Nash connect with Ann in a genuine way that creates a bond.

Faith formation is concerned with our entire lives. We are always learning and always growing. There is a woman in my church who plays the glasses. Literally has a set up of wine glasses in different sizes that she plays and it is incredible. My daughter saw this on display one Sunday and was in awe. The woman invited my daughter over to her home to show her how to play. My daughter is a musician and picked it up quickly and the two of them played music all afternoon together. My daughter was taught how to play glasses, but my daughter was also part of this woman’s faith journey. Spending time with someone who missed her own children and grandchildren and was able to share something that gave her so much joy. These holy moments can come where we are forming faith and we don’t even know it.

There are so many ways we can continue to form faith throughout all the ages and it may never involve a Bible or a curriculum. Get creative in connecting with our older members because those may be the ones that surprise you most.

Karen Miller is Director of Children and Youth Ministries at Church of Reconciliation in Chapel Hill, NC and a Member of the Hope4CE Steering Committee