Senior adult ministries have long lived on the edges of many
congregations. Beyond occasional visits, flower deliveries or a handmade
card from a children‘s class, the needs of elderly citizens are
complex, and their numbers are rapidly expanding.
The needs of adults with aging parents are growing just as rapidly. New forms of seniors ministry are needed in the congregation and the community to address many emerging problems.
"There is a real appetite for ways of living into old age that reduce loneliness, strengthen links with the community, and are based on mutual relationships and reciprocal support."
Congregations can play a key role in this.
Reconfirmed in recent studies, the positive link between religious involvement and physical and mental health has been well established.
with a strong personal faith who regularly attend religious services
generally have lower blood pressure; are less likely to suffer from
depression; have greater sense of well-being; have stronger immune
systems; and live longer -- 23% longer, according to a long-term study
by Dr. William Strawbridge and other researchers [American Journal of Public Health, 1997]
is not to imply that people who are involved in their congregations do
not become ill or experience serious health related problems. However,
taken as an aggregate, participation in a religious community has an
overall positive impact on health. A supportive community, grounding in
hope, affirmation for personal value and well-being, developing concern
for others all play a contributing role. Being active in a
congregation's close knit circle can even have a positive impact on
But, “At the time when religious support is most needed, older persons are less able to access it (due to failing health, immobility, or lack of transportation).”
Therefore, congregations must continue to invent new ways to involve and engage older adults in everyday life.
As technology continues to rapidly change and expand, there can be new
opportunities to involve the youth of congregations in outreach to senior
adult ministries in the congregation and the community. Youth in
congregations can be a vital resource in helping to see that
technology is an asset in the lives of older members.
Youth groups can start by organizing to make sure that no elderly member of the congregation has their
television go dark after they get a gift. How many older people will
receive a new flat-screen television, or DVD player, or switch from
cable to satellite dish? The issues involved in the conversation are
very simple for those that are technologically savvy, but are completely
overwhelming for people who still preferred the rabbit ears and changing the channel by hand!
How about those getting a iPad for the first time? Or even a new smart phone?
technology is unbelievably complex for many senior adults. An older
relative recently got a new DVD player as a present. After frustrations
of getting it to work, a neighbor finally came by and started the movie.
But afterward, he could not get it to stop because no one had explained
the menu system and how to navigate through all the unfamiliar
Many seniors will not be able to make the transition smoothly, so your youth group's help will long be needed.
Caring-giving for elders can be one of the leading stresses on
families. Adult children increasingly find themselves as part of a
sandwich generation, tending to the needs of their children and
grandchildren, as well as their aging parents. Congregations have a wide
open field to address
and provide much needed guidance and resources.
The impact of caregiver challenges are often invisible in congregations. Learn how to offer real support and
care for the caregiver.
Adult children are often caring "long distance" as families are scattered across the country and around the globe. Adult children balance complex schedules of travel to offer care, with work and other family obligations. They have a need to develop trusted local resources who can sometimes communicate needed information or provide local emergency contacts. Senior adult ministries could provide such a link.
There is incredible new research about brain aging and the role of keeping mentally challenged. Researchers have confirmed that leading a stimulating life leads to greater health and overall well-being. While numerous residential communities have experimented with offering new programs for developing cognitive reserve, this is a new possibility for senior adult ministries to incorporate brain fitness programs into their approach.
Dr. Drew Leder from Loyola University in Maryland is among a growing
number of thinkers who are developing an approaching to senior adult
ministries that incorporates cultural wisdom from generations past.
Their approach called “Spiritual Eldering” focuses on the value
of aging as a unique stage of life. Their attempt is to create
intentional environments where the elderly are invited to reflect on
their own life stories and lessons learned as well as encouraged to
offer guidance, their acquired wisdom, and mentoring for the good of the
Spiritual eldering is not an invitation
just for those vigorous seniors in good health. Leder and others see
illness and disability as another avenue toward spiritual growth and
wisdom that can be shared.
Families are challenged by interacting with health care systems and
sometimes needing to make complex ethical decisions with little time,
understanding or guidance. Senior adult ministries could be a vital link
in providing discussions and educational opportunities about
other issues of elder life and
advance care planning
. They can actively encourage members to talk early with family members
and consider a varieties of possible scenarios for the future. They can
advocate for completing vital documents and making sure those documents
are stored or distributed appropriately.
Congregations can provide an essential place to help families engage in
These conversations can involve ethical dilemmas, values, beliefs, and
all the fears we carry as individuals and a society about death and
dying. What if we could "normalize" the talking about the end of life?
What if we were as comfortable as talking about how we live, or what we
believe about life after death?
There is a PBS documentary the could be a helpful tool in framing the some of the essential issues around end of life. Consider the Conversation Consider the Conversation: a documentary about at taboo subject is a powerful film that provides an effective framework for beginning end of life conversations within your congregation. I was interviewed in the early part of the film as it lays out why we are the first generations ever to need to have these talks within our families.
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