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.

Youth Faith Connections for Mental Health

In a previous article I lamented how this pandemic had exhausted me. At one time it had energized, but now I was just done. Not only are we dealing with our own emotions and fatigue, we have congregations to hold up, including youth and children that have gone through a traumatic year.

Milestones missed. Grades at risk. Athletic seasons wiped out. Friendships lost. An entire school year that did not match any that came before it. This is a lot on top of the stress that the tween and teen years can bring all on their own. We check in with our kids and youth, but sometimes we do not have enough time or the right timing to get into the deeper feelings they are having.

In my ministry I struggle with assuming needs. I absolutely want to fill needs, but I don’t ever want to assume what they need. What I see from the outside may not be what they are feeling inside. A few years ago I received a call at 10:30 pm on a weeknight. It was our parish nurse and she was with the family of one of my youth whose father had been released from the hospital to pass away at home from a glioblastoma. They figured it could be a matter of hours and our nurse thought I should be there for my youth, an only child at 14 years old. I went into panic mode. What was I going to say? What was I going to do? This was my first touch with death from one of my youth with a beloved parent and it sadly would not be my last.

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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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FIG-Families In the Garden

Is your church searching for a family activity that moves slowly into an expanded social bubble while providing an opportunity for the congregation to begin to “regather” in person on your campus? Why not be a FIG and DIG?

family in the garden (003)
Children of God, of all ages, are looking for ways to connect beyond screens. Church activities have been fairly two dimensional in the last few months. Now, we are all ready to head outdoors and back to working together doing kingdom work with kingdom hands. Second Presbyterian Church is reviving one such project called FIG. The “Green Team” tends the Northside Community Garden to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to the Northside Ministry’s Food Pantry. They collaborated with the Children’s Ministries Team to include members of all ages. Three years ago, a program called “FIG” began.
“FIG” is a collaborative partnership between the Community Garden and the Children’s Ministries program. It stands for Families in the Garden.

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Insights for Churches from Our Camps and Conference Centers

As churches consider what it will look like to offer in-person programs for children and youth, you may want to gain insight from the experiences of others. While most of our camp and conference programs were cancelled due to COVID-19, some sites are currently offering face-to-face programing this summer. Here are just some of the insights shared by our camps and conference centers:

T-shirt front that says "Six Feet Apart but Closer than Ever" and has an outline of a camp saying "Summer Camp 2020" at the bottom.

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Connecting With Kids This Summer

We are all coming up with NEW ideas to help connect with our kids and families this summer.  We may not be able to gather in large groups, but we can still CONNECT in creative and meaningful ways.

I have gathered ideas, suggestions and try-it’s to share.

This is a start; I am sure this awesome group of Ministry Leaders/Teachers/Educators will keep adding to the list.  Most of these you can do with a small group 3-5 people or families can meet up and participate as their own small group.

 

FamilyBikeRiders

*Meet up or Drop off (limit 3-5 people and observe social distance protocols)

  • Bike Ride
  • Visit a farm – the Bible uses a lot of farming and shepherding metaphors (ask the farmer to demonstrate calling animals for feeding time or how they plant a field or to explain what gleaning is)
  • Drive-thru farm (we have a few of these in Ohio)
  • Serve at a Soup Kitchen or Homeless Shelter
  • Petting Zoo
  • BinGO – Bingo in the church parking lot. Open the back of the mini-van or SVU, sit in lawn chairs near your vehicle.  Use a bull-horn to call #’s.
  • Movie – outdoors (bring your own blanket or chairs)
  • Book Club – read a book together and discuss in person or over zoom
  • Dog Show – dress up your dog, best groomed, tricks or agility (even if you don’t have a dog, it would be fun to come and watch)
  • Hike at a local park
  • Walk and meet at smaller/less known Nature Preserves
  • Kayaking or Canoeing
  • Video – send in a 60-second video of anything – blowing a bubble from bubble gum, cup stacking, playing the piano, reciting a poem, doing a trick on their bike, burping the alphabet…etc

*Disclaimer: I wouldn’t use the church van this summer but encourage parents to meet you or drop kids off for a designated work time.  I would also encourage mask wearing.

Low Touch or No Touch Games

  • Frisbee golf (each participant brings their own frisbee, or provide cleaning wipes)
  • Bocce Ball
  • Cornhole (make up new bags using ziplock baggies, easy to wipe down)
  • BadmintonWater fight (002)
  • Capture the Flag
  • Croquet
  • Supersoakers – water fight

 

Things I have been thinking about, but not sure how to do

  • Theology on Tap with Kids — Lemonade on the Lawn?
  • Some Good News – based on John Krasinski’s SGN channel – ask people to send in short videos of people doing good things (make a compilation video to share)
  • Mission UNTRIP – serve locally – dog shelter, resale or thrift shop, food bank, community garden, etc…
  • Unwind at 9 – a meet up time with parents to check in, share fears and hopes and connect

What have you been thinking about?

What can you add to this list?

Update in the comments – share your ideas.

jenni bio pic  Jenni Whitford is a Certified Christian Educator in the PC(USA) and Director for Children’s Ministry at Worthington Presbyterian Church (Columbus, Ohio), Member of Hope4CE Steering Committee

Daily Devotionals

When I was an educator/pastor at the Nassau Presbyterian Church, the Adult Education Committee had the idea of creating a Lenten devotional, with daily entries written entirely by members and friends of the congregation. Guidelines for submission included a maximum word count, inclusion of a 2-3 sentence prayer and brief bio, and style suggestions such as preferred Bible versions for a brief selected quote and appropriately inclusive language for God and humanity.  This is not a unique or even a new idea, but two features of it, and a Covid-19 time expansion that grew from the practice this spring, may be developments worth noting.

The first year, 46 days of devotions, based on each person’s choice of text from the daily lectionary, were printed in a small booklet, and reproduced in large print. The latter were in such high demand multiple additional copies were printed. Older adults were enthusiastic users!

In subsequent years, these additional access points have been added:

  • Daily posts are sent by email (the first one automatically, subsequent ones to those who subscribe)
  • All are made available on the church website
  • All are posted in the early morning on Facebook

These two features have become very important to readers:

  1. The writer’s name and a short bio are attached to each devotion, primarily stating one’s involvement in the congregation
  2. Writer’s email addresses are provided so readers may write a note of appreciation or connection to the writer. Emails are listed in the print version only to protect privacy. Those using other formats may send an email forwarded by the church office.

In this spring of virtual worship and programming, connection is so important no one has wanted to stop receiving these after Easter, so the practice has been extended through the 50 days of Eastertide to Pentecost. No print version is available but all other ways of distributing the daily devotion continue. Volunteer writers are solicited and all submissions follow the usual guidelines and focus on a selected lectionary text for the day. (See below for an example of a recent Daily Devotional Post.)

Daily posts inspire faith and prayer, offer encouragement, and most important of all, create and nurture connection amongst the congregation, something worth valuing at all times, not just in this time.

Devotional Post Example 6-1-20

Joyce portrait

 

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

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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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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