Honoring and Enriching the Lives and Spiritual Journeys of Older Adults

In this post-pandemic world, it is more important than ever to intentionally engage in ministry with, and shaped for, older adults. Those without technology skills and equipment feel left-out. Those without families to encourage and surround them feel left-behind. Those outside thriving, connected, senior adult centers feel isolated. The places they called home, their church and the multitude of organizations of which they were a part, despite super-human efforts to stay connected in the midst of extraordinary circumstances, are just now beginning to open their doors and welcome them into the warm embrace of friends and stories and empathy and beloved community. What an opportunity to extend the reach of God’s love into a world of grief and mourning, fear and disorientation, longing and desire for deep connection!

Photo by Gabriel Porras from Unsplash

Who are these older adults and what engages their interest and commitment? Whether you define “older adults as 60-100 years, in categories of “mature” and “seasoned,” or as “elders” or “third-thirties,” there are 6500 more people over the age of 65 in America every day. These ten principles may offer you real keys to re-opening the doors of Christian community to them with renewed purpose:

  1. Older adults’ understandings of Christian faith vary significantly.

Expect a great variety of beliefs about God, who Jesus was and/or is, the purpose of the church, how faith might affect one’s life, the aim of prayer, and what death brings, amongst others.

2. Older adults enter our congregations with a variety of religious-spiritual identities and needs:

“…those who are religiously/spiritually committed and engaged in the faith community; [and] those who are less religiously committed and participate occasionally in the faith community.” In their circles of connection, our congregants will also encounter, “…those who have left established churches and religion, but are still spiritual and spiritually committed, [and] those who are unaffiliated, uninvolved, and claim no religious identity.”[1] 

3. Faith formation is concerned with all of one’s life.

This includes one’s physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual realities.

4. Relationship and community are key to adult faith formation.

Older adults find community in family, friends, “neighborhoods,” church, small groups, and social gatherings.

5. Diversity of programming provides the depth to engage a breadth of situations and circumstances.

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

6. Older adults have a variety of preferred ways of learning; but will try new ways to engage.

Pay attention to offering choices, and plan for many abilities and needs for accommodation.

7. Many highly significant life transitions occur in the last third of life.

These are key opportunities for fostering spiritual exploration, inviting growth, empowering resilience, developing coping strategies, providing special care, and connecting to a small group with similar changes or needs.

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

These contacts are beneficial to all ages and stages for life-story telling, learning to be sensitive to others’ needs, discovering ways to love and care, working together on a task, and experiencing joy and delight.

9. Helping others is a deep desire of older adults.

When searching for or creating opportunities to help, consider accessibility for many abilities, meeting needs for contribution and caring, creating relationship with others that can be life-giving, finding situations where continuing partnership is both possible and desirable and mutual benefits are optimal.

10. Older adults show increasing openness to the online, digital world for faith formation

Advantages: Personalizing exploration and learning; offering a variety of entry points into learning; connecting isolated individuals though common interests; delivering content about every subject imaginable; guiding physical exercise, spiritual practices, worship, and training for particular ministries. But not every older adult has or is willing to engage with technology.

Each one of these principles offers rich opportunities to develop engagement and programming in conversation with older adults. Choose one or two that most describe your own context and make a fresh start in this post-pandemic world. Older adults are hungry for the Spirit, and the Spirit is willing and able to offer the food of community and connection that gives life.

A note from the editor: This is the initial post of an eleven part series. Each Tuesday this summer we will publish a post by a different author focusing on one of these 10 principles. We hope this enlivens your ministry with older adults.

Resources for planning ministry with older adults:

  • Elders Rising” – Webinar “Ministry with Older Adults” with Dr. Roland Martinson (April 23, 2020)

Also, his book by the same name: Elders Rising: The Promise and Peril of Aging

“In this inspiring book, Roland D. Martinson draws on the folk wisdom and experience of over fifty persons between the ages of sixty-two and ninety-seven. He puts this wisdom in conversation with scriptural and theological understandings of elders in the last third of life and sets forth perspectives on aging for individuals, groups, civic organizations, and congregations to utilize in developing a vital, resilient, and productive quality of life for elders.”

  • The Seasons of Adult Faith Formation, Editor: John Roberto, LifelongFaith Associates, 2015.
  • 2020 Older Adult Ministry Planning Guide, Presbyterian Older Adult Ministry Network (PCUSA), which contains an annual Worship Outline for Older Adult Sunday (May 3rd in 2020). Free download on POAMN site.

Of special interest: Fall 2015 The Future of Adult Faith Formation

Winter 2016 Special Issues on Adult Faith Formation

Spring 2007: “Shaping a New Vision of Faith Formation for Maturing Adults: Sixteen Fundamental Tasks.”

  • On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity and Getting Old, Parker J. Palmer, Berrett-Koehler Publications, Inc., 2018.

Joyce MacKichan Walker, Retired Church Educator/Pastor, Princeton, New Jersey


[1] “Twenty-First Century Adult Faith Formation,” John Roberto, page 2.

A group of youth on a mission trip with a quotation from Lewis Carroll above their heads

The Mission of Our Mission

With COVID-19 vaccines being widely distributed, more and more churches are considering taking groups of youth on trips to engage in mission (aka “the mission trip”).  Like with so many things  at church that we had to stop because of the pandemic, we are now in a position to consider, Do we want to go back to “business as usual” or do we want to take the opportunity to think about this differently? 

We at Youth Mission Co encourage our colleagues in youth ministry to use this time to consider

the “Mission” of our Mission.

Often when I talk to adults about our work of engaging youth in mission, they remark about how important it is…

Because our young people need to know how others are living

Because our youth should learn to be thankful for what they have

Because giving feels good

Because Jesus told us to do such things

All of these responses are valid.  All of them are true.  But they only represent half the picture. 

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Is Everything Fine?

Everything’s fine…

That is what I keep telling myself. The truth is that it is not.

I have no new ideas.

Asian woman with post-it notes all over her and her computer

 

I see your ideas on Facebook and hear them in Zoom meetings. I do. They’re great. I read them and feel like I am in 8th grade again and am jealous of Kristin’s Guess Jeans. I want a triangle on my bum, but my mom says I have to pay for half and I am lazy. I am jealous of the ideas, but am so burnt out right now.

 

Am I down on myself? For sure, but after meeting with the Hope4CE Steering Committee I know that I am not alone. We are all feeling it. Maybe you can’t pack one more bag, do one more porch drop off, edit one more video, look at one more poorly attended Zoom meeting. I am here to tell you that it is ok.

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Puppetry and The Pandemic

I have learned many new technology skills during this time of physical isolation and virtual ministry. I’m sure you have, too. I’ve also discovered that I could reach back to skills that I haven’t exercised in a while that find new life in these challenging times.

One of those skills is the art of puppetry. I’ve always been enamored with puppets, since my time growing up with the likes of Captain Kangaroo, Shari Lewis, and later Fred Rogers and the Muppets. There is something magical that happens when you animate these pieces of fabric and stuffing into a living character with particular personality traits.

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Beyond the Book Club: Anti-Racist Children and Family Ministry

This is a reblog from Christine V Hides’ site with her permission. This is a very important post for our times and for our ongoing work in loving our neighbors. KLD

Christine V Hides

There seems to be a pattern. Whenever a video of a Black person being killed emerges, shock and outrage fill our social media feeds. White people begin to ask (again), “what can we do?” Booklists begin to circulate (again) on social media. Book clubs begin (again). Fortunately, there is a wealth of excellent resources for learning about the history of systemic racism in the United States. There are also amazing lists of books to read with children and tips to help White parents to have important conversations about race. I am grateful for the hard work and effort of those who write and curate these resources and the churches who engage with these hard conversations. But…

Unfortunately, in both society and in Children and Family Ministry our efforts often don’t move beyond the book club. White colleagues, let’s not wait until the next horrifying news event to take…

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The Eucharist Has Left The Building

Jesus told the Samaritan woman in the Gospel of John, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither worship God on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem…But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:21-24

For the first time in my lifetime, the entire congregation is on the church’s shut-in list. We have been mandated to “shelter-in-place” and practice social distancing whenever we venture out of the house due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, churches have turned to social media platforms like Zoom, Periscope and Facebook Live to carry on the business of the church. Bible studies, small group gatherings, and the worship experience have been moved from the church house to our house. We are forced to go beyond the four walls of the sacred sanctuary into living rooms, and family rooms to partake in study and worship.  For some of us this is the first time that we’ve had spiritual formation experiences outside of the church. Our biggest challenge, however, has been what in the world do we do for communion? For the most part, we have adapted to going to church in the living rooms across the country. It is reminiscent of the early church which got its start in the homes of the early Christians.[1]  So, what does that look like for us on first Sunday? How do we experience Holy Communion when we are not there to physically partake of the liturgy and elements?

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Bytes of Faith-An Idea for Faith Formation

When Covid-19 stay at home orders came in March, our congregation was caught off guard.  Our Christian Education ministry relied on face-to-face gatherings.  From Sunday School to youth Confirmation, Wednesday night LOGOS to weekly small groups, we were used to traditional ways of doing Christian education.   And we were in the midst of our Lenten Small Group study!  Teacher training events never talked about what happens during a pandemic when you are told to physically social distance from other people.

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Mother’s Day

I am a mother of two. One bright, creative, full of life five year old and her sister who lives in heaven. Mother’s Day has always been tricky for me. Don’t get me wrong. I love recognizing my mom, both of my grandmothers and the many other important “mothering” people in my life. My living child has an amazing godmother and many positive female role models but Mother’s Day is a challenge.

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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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