to the Christian Education page of the American Baptist Churches of
resource will serve as a forum to share ideas, get information and
Please share the Web address for
this site with Christian Education workers in your church. I would
also invite you to offer
suggestions of things which would make the site useful to
Ministry with Seniors
I recently attended a workshop titled Spiritual Dimensions of Aging. The whole area of study that includes aging and gerontology has become very important. We are all aware that the numbers of people at that magic age of 65 will increase greatly as the “baby boomers” get there. The effects will be long-reaching and concerns include medical care, insurance programs, volunteerism, social services, long term care, etc. It will continue to be a challenge to meet the needs and also to utilize the gifts available through these seniors.
Social Science researchers have long tried to identify developmental tasks of various life stages. From middle age on people are moving from developing roles in life (what we do) toward the formation of the spiritual and transcendent parts of life (who we are). With our society’s emphasis on productivity, this task becomes very difficult. Who are we when we are no longer in the (active, full-time?) work force? How do we deal with unfulfilled goals? It is clear that we will never accomplish all we dreamed of doing in our younger days.
Change is a part of every stage of life, but change in this stage of life is nearly all experienced as loss. Consider just a few. Physical changes include diminishing sensory ability (hearing, seeing, etc.) which leads to difficulty in participation; decreased mobility which also leads to difficulty in participation; increased pain which makes it more difficult to concentrate. Cognitive changes, including insight, memory and communication, leads to diminished meaning in many activities. Social changes may be the most difficult of all. This is a time when seniors lose friends, spouses, etc. and funerals become an all too familiar occurrence. All of this can lead to a sense of disconnectedness and alienation.
If these are the things with which our seniors are dealing, what does it tell us about our ministry with them? How do we support them in dealing with the changes of life and in their spiritual development? Here are a few things to consider.
Compensate for the physical changes by ensuring that rooms are accessible, print is large, and that amplification for sound is available. Remember that volume is not the only issue. Sometimes when things are loud it is distressing and may even prevent hearing. Make room for wheelchairs in such a way that persons who use them are included.
Provide continuity. While things need to change for other groups in the church, ensure that the things that have and continue to nurture the spiritual life of seniors are available to them.
Encourage community building. Opportunities to build friendships and give and receive support from those experiencing similar things are vitally important.
Value who they are and what they bring to the development of spiritual life at all the stages of life. It is common to put down the things that “have been” in such a way that persons become undervalued. That is damaging to the senior and also to the “next generation” who could receive many things from them.
Provide opportunities for study. Listen to them. They can give direction to the topics needed!
All of this may sound somewhat negative. But while loss is a big part of this stage of life, what remains is very positive. Indeed, the move from identifying ourselves by what we do to considering who we are may lead to spiritual growth. Such a shift in emphasis from “doing” to “being” is counter-cultural, but faith producing. Quite a long time ago I became familiar with a study the results of which resulted in the linking of maturity of faith with increasing age. It further suggested that maturity of faith increased with each successive decade and was most often found among those over 70. The corresponding challenge identified was that those with the greatest faith maturity (ages 70 and over) are an underutilized resource. Newer research still seems to verify this. So, if that is true, how can we address this problem? Almost all of our churches have persons in the 70 and up category. Here are a few suggestions. I am sure you can think of many more than will work in your context.
Bring in a senior from your congregation to a Sunday school class. That person might read a story, tell a story, talk about ways they celebrated a specific holiday, etc. You may want to do that regularly so they meet many of the seniors.
Or take your children’s class to the senior who might be shut-in or in a care center. I remember a dear lady named Mrs. Waterbury who had lost her sight and her ability to get out but not her ability to tell wonderful stories to any group who would come to her. It was a treat for everyone!
Have a senior from your congregation tell something about your church in days gone by. This could be a regular addition to a children’s story time.
Get some children who need help with homework together with some seniors who can help! It could be a regular after school event.
Have youth go to the homes of seniors to help with yard work, house work, etc. Make sure there is time for some visiting!
Invite some seniors to teach some children some skills they have acquired such as knitting, sewing, woodworking, cooking, etc.
Don’t forget this value resource in our churches. They need us but we also need them! Together we reach for greater spiritual development.
Rev. Maxine Ashley
Staff Associate in Christian Education