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!”
“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.”
Recorded Service Link and file of liturgy from recorded service adapted from PC(USA) worship resources for the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
Post 10 of 11 in a series on the 10 Principles of Older Adult Ministry (banner image by Raul Petrie from Unsplash)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Post 7 of 11 in a series on the 10 Principles of Older Adult Ministry (banner image by Raul Petrie from Unsplash)
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.
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. 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.
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.
Post 6 of 11 in a series on the 10 Principles of Older Adult Ministry (banner image by Raul Petrie from Unsplash)
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.
Post 3 of 11 in a series on the 10 Principles of Older Adult Ministry (banner image by Raul Petrie from Unsplash)
“…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.” (From Honoring and Enriching the Lives and Spiritual Journeys of Older Adults)
It is a good reminder that not every older adult has a church background. We may assume they grew up in church or have attended more Bible studies than the Pastor – but that simply is not true in all cases. We must provide varying opportunities for engagement, Bible study and worship.
Middle-aged people who are having religious stirrings for the first time, or at least for the first time since they were young may find these urges confusing and even troubling, especially if they moved away from faith earlier in life.
These seekers usually believe their spiritual yearnings are unusual, but they aren’t. Research from the United States shows that religious attachment commonly decreases in young and middle adulthood, but then increases through one’s 40s and beyond. The theologian James Fowler explained this pattern in his famous 1981 book, Stages of Faith. After studying hundreds of human subjects, Fowler observed that as young adults, many people are put off by ideas that seem arbitrary or morally retrograde, such as those surrounding sexuality. They may also become disillusioned by religion’s inability to explain life’s hardest puzzles; for example, the idea of a loving God in the face of a world full of suffering.
As they get older, however, people begin to recognize that nothing is tidy in life. This, according to Fowler, is when they become tolerant of religion’s ambiguities and inconsistencies and start to see the beauty and transcendence in faith and spirituality—either their own faith from childhood, or some other. Fowler’s later research asked whether the stages he found in the 1970s and ’80s held against modern developments (such as decreasing religious participation in the U.S.); he observed that they did.
For those who embrace faith at this stage, it is a joyful epiphany; religious and spiritual adults are generally happier and generally suffer less depression than those who have no faith. And the benefits of finding faith as an adult go beyond life satisfaction, according to research on the subject: Religion and spirituality are also linked to better physical health. This could be in part because the majority of studies find practitioners are less likely than others to abuse drugs and alcohol.
As we plan Adult Education classes, studies and worship it is imperative to remember our older adults may have grown up in the church, may have fallen away from the church, and are now revisiting or perhaps have never taken a Christian Education class. We should be aware of the vast experiences and biblical understanding each participant may have. It cannot be assumed every older adult knows who Rahab, David, Esther, Paul or Lydia are, their stories or how God used them to share God’s message of love and hope. It may be better to circle back to the basics to help those who may not have a lot of biblical background, and while doing this you are reviewing and helping other “veteran learners” to remember without making anyone feel uncomfortable.
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:
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.”
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.
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.
That is what I keep telling myself. The truth is that it is not.
I have no new ideas.
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.
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.