Earlier this year, the Mid-America Region arranged to bring important information about older adult ministries to congregations across the state. Made financially possible through the Rickman Legacy Fund, we partnered with gerontology consultant Jan Aerie for a series of seminars on older adult ministries. They focus on equipping the church to better meet the pastoral, emotional, health, fellowship and recreational needs of older adults in their communities of faith.
Several churches responded to the invitation to host such a seminar, and another in the series has recently taken place at Lake Ozark Christian Church. What follows is Jan's report of the activity of the day.
The program began, after introductions and a welcome, with an overview of some of the realities and myths about aging. The use of a ten question “quiz” enabled group participation. The participants numbered 28 from various cluster churches.
The bulk of the morning was spent discussing care-giving and -receiving. The challenges and issues of the mission and ministry of caregiving were highlighted. Concerns about change, loss and grief and about how to ask for and receive help as a caregiver/receiver were chosen as focus points. Several activities, including small group sharing, underscored the importance of processing our emotions. Choosing a priority of focus, balance and flexibility in our mission and ministry as care-ers was exemplified by an activity with feathers.
Bible verses and a few biblical stories highlighted points about stopping to listen, care and about the importance of the ability to accept help. Prayer, rituals and support groups were tools for self-care that were emphasized.
Following a lunch break the group reconvened to discuss ways congregations can learn from and view ministry with and for older adults. Inter-generational and age specific programs and activities were mentioned. Small groups were again formed and each began by listing assets of their church that are helpful for older adults. The small groups then prioritized their lists by their views of the importance of the assets. The next step in the working process was to develop responses to three ministry model questions by expanding their priorities into more specific program ideas.
The entire group came back together to share their findings and hopes. An exercise demonstrating how we cannot stand alone, but must work together wrapped up the session. The participants were invited to share reflections and questions before the day was concluded with a summary and prayer.
The purpose and goals for the day were to raise awareness about individual aging, and to touch upon ways our thinking and stereotypes impact our outlook and longevity. A second goal was to serve the interests and needs of those present by listening to their cares and concerns. Many were caregivers yet many care-receivers were also present. The topic of caregiving issues and needs was a program priority. A third purpose and goal was to explore and discover ways congregations can address the needs and unique gifts of older adults in church programming.
The group seemed to be receptive, well engaged and involved throughout the day. There was enthusiastic discussion and honest sharing. Participation by the cluster church’s clergy throughout the day, as well as their helpful work in planning for the day, added a value and importance to the topic.
This cluster called for and chose a longer program timeframe of four hours instead of two hours. This was highly beneficial in addressing the topic in greater depth, and easing the feeling of needing to lightly touch on many important points. Though a lunch was then necessary to include, (and so the program time is actually closer to 3 1/4 hours), it is a recommended model for future older adult ministry programs.