Be a Bethlehem Shepherd!

Dr. Mary Manz Simon, ALOA Board of Directors

“I miss talking about my faith.”

The 87-year-old who sat across from me usually led devotions for a women’s Bible study at our church. However, pandemic protocols completely disrupted her normal routine. Fortunately, I had good news for my friend.

COVID-19 might limit holiday gatherings, but we can still share the Christmas message. Whether you are 65 or 95, use this 3-step plan to become a modern Bethlehem shepherd:

  1. Pray boldly.  Add an intentional, specific request to daily petitions.  Ask God for situations and opportunities to witness. Then thank Him, in advance, for the wisdom to approach others with a caring heart.
  2. Pray big.  Do 12 people live on your cul-de-sac? Attach a verse from Luke 2 to the Christmas cookies you leave at front doors. Pray that God would expand your vision among non-churched relatives, casual acquaintances, and those with whom you correspond at the holidays.
  3. Pray for courage.  It’s tempting to run from opportunities. After all, Lutherans aren’t noted for talking about faith. However, “God did not give us a spirit of timidity.” (1 Timothy 1:7) Trust Him to walk alongside.  

At the First Christmas, the shepherds didn’t dash to the nearest synagogue to spread the news that Jesus was born. They told an innkeeper down the street and a traveler coming to town for the census. Generations later, will you connect with similar people in these final days before Christmas?

Will you be a “Bethlehem shepherd” this year? Will you share the Good News that “Jesus is born”?

Check out this video to find out more about the unique perspective we have as older adults.

Take a look at previous posts for more inspiration for older adult ministry.

The Friendship Bench

Dr. Mary Manz Simon, ALOA Board of Directors

Senior and young man talking

Our church bell choir needed more space, so two pews were moved out of the worship space to the narthex. Those rarely used front pews have seen new life as friendship benches.

Seeing older adults naturally gravitate toward those cushy places before and after worship reminds me of a senior ministry in Zimbabwe about which I’d read.

Three hundred elderly women have been trained to serve as lay health workers in The Friendship Project. These “community grandmothers” sit outside clinics where they listen, talk people through their problems and encourage solutions. Even before the pandemic, research showed that social support methods of care can be effective for helping people deal with mental health issues. These trained women, who have available time and years of life experience, can make a difference.

This idea made me wonder if one of the pews in our narthex could be designated as a prayer pew. A member of the prayer team, composed almost entirely of older adults, could sit on the pew each weekend to pray with others.

Of course, congregations that intentionally skew their image, budget and programming to attract young families might feel “planting” a senior in such a visible position could lead visitors to think “this is a church for the elderly.” However, having older adults welcome guests and appear in communication pieces doesn’t imply a congregation is only for the elderly. We need the young, but can’t forget the old.

Does your congregation present a cross-generational public face?  Are initiatives for older adults fully funded? Does programming for older adults match the senior population in your church and community?  

Installing a Friendship Bench or asking older adults to staff a prayer pew might trigger other initiatives to expand older adult ministry.

EQ_play video

Check out this video to find out more how older adults have a unique advantage in listening to and helping others.

Take a look at previous posts for more inspiration for older adult ministry.

Not a Laughing Matter!

Dr. Mary Manz Simon, ALOA Board of Directors

I confess. I’m guilty.

On rare occasions, I’ve joked that, “I’m too old for that,” or “At 73, I’m barely over the hill.” However, there’s no excuse for that self-inflected ageism.

If those attempts at humor reflect any underlying gloomy feelings about being old, the World Health Organization says my health is in jeopardy. People with negative views about their journey as an older adult live 7.5 years less than those with a positive attitude. Clearly, I need to give up my attempt at age-related humor!

Many of us can supply a genuinely funny phrase to finish the sentence, “You know you’re getting older when…” ALOA Board member Rich Bimler continually reminds us that we need to age joyfully.

Keeping life light with laughter can distract, at least temporarily, from some of the challenges of aging that are anything but funny.

We even read in the Bible that, ”A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22)

Everyone can identify with many of the humorous anecdotes that are printed on greeting cards and appear in cartoons. Humor crosses cultural and generational lines. And if we want to generate a guaranteed laugh, an over-the-hill joke will always work. After all, aging is universal.

Research shows that an aging-induced decline in cognitive abilities can impact both the ability to understand humor and the ability to produce something funny. I was pleased to learn that older men and older women react differently to humor. We don’t respond equally to the irony in a punch line or the humor in a cartoon. That simple fact, not declining cognitive ability, clearly explains why I don’t laugh atmy husband’s jokes!

More research is needed to understand how growing older impacts what we consider funny and how humor can contribute to healthy aging. But in the meantime, we should be aware that ageist humor is a form of discrimination. “Harmless” age-related jokes can be potentially harmful to ourselves and others.All joking aside, that is no laughing matter.

Play Ageism video

Check out this video for more thoughts on ageism and what congregations can do to counteract it.

Take a look at previous posts for more inspiration for older adult ministry.

Five Actions to Embrace Aging

Dr. Mary Manz Simon, ALOA Board of Directors

I’ll be honest: A bit of my logic for joining the ALOA Board was driven by selfishness. I wanted to learn how to grow old gracefully from people who embrace aging.

Oh, I was willing to serve. I’ve always tried to go through the doors God opens. But I wondered how I, as an early childhood educator, could contribute to an organization that fostered ministry to older adults.

Yet eight years later, God has transformed my sinful, selfish nature and those uncertainties into showers of blessings.

A long parade of incredibly competent older adults continue to model characteristics that demonstrate how to thrive, not just survive the aging process. As board president, Shirley Carpenter exuded high energy leadership that continues to fuel older adult ministry in New Jersey. Rev. Ken Holdorf turned his woodworking skills into funding to launch ALOA’s video projects. Current member Deaconess Penny Cedel sets a dynamic pace to achieve ministry goals. And the list could continue.

Here are essential qualities these faithful servants of God continue to model for me:

  1. Have a reason to get up in the morning. Whether it’s caring for a cat or serving on the church altar guild, intentionally use the time God gives. Today is a gift to use.
  2. Connect. During the pandemic, we were reminded that aging can be a lonely, isolating experience. Whether you Zoom a Bible class, Facetime a grandson or tweet about a sale at the local grocery store, reach out to others.
  3. Celebrate God at work. Look for signs of God at work to see how busy he is! Joy will overflow to fuel new energy for life.
  4. Continue learning. Engage your brain. Finish a puzzle. Research staycation or vacation locations. Play a video game.
  5. Strengthen your spiritual core. Grow your relationship with Jesus. Read a devotion. Write a prayer each morning. Keep a daily blessings log.

In your life, who has God blessed you with who is thriving, not just surviving as they age?

Check out this video for more inspiration to help embracing aging.

Take a look at previous posts for more inspiration for older adult ministry.

Seize the Moment

Dr. Mary Manz Simon, ALOA Board of Directors

Can you feel it? The pace is picking up!

Upward view of two elder couples smiling

Now that we are emerging from the COVID crisis, psychologists say that our brains are wired to adopt new habits. Blending what’s both fresh and familiar will lead toward a healthy balance in the “next normal.” That is true both of us individually and for congregational ministries.

This summer, church teams across the country are seizing this unique “moment in time” to strategize for the future. Ask these questions to create a vibrant older adult ministry for fall, 2021 and beyond:

  1. Is our current smorgasbord of older adult events, services and programs still relevant in the post-pandemic world?
    For example, issues related to mental health (stress reduction, depression, loneliness, etc.) and self-care measures became more visible in the past year. Should these and similar topics, which previously were off-limits, be included in regular programming? What will compel an older adult to be engaged?
  2. Do formats match our target audience?
    The pandemic triggered an acceleration of digital adoption across demographics. Virtual conferencing and online events became common. Social commentators acknowledge that expectations have grown. Post-pandemic, multiple formats are now the norm.
    For example, although my husband’s Bible class has returned to meeting in person, the online version will continue. This decision has been welcomed by participants with mobility issues or transportation problems.
  3. Are current leaders prepared for action and healthy dialogue?
    Age, illness and life situations force us to reassess and set new boundaries. During the lengthy social isolation of the past year, some leaders might have lost the energy or motivation to steer a ministry re-launch. However, an entire new crop of front-liners might be ready to shepherd the flock.

After all, 10,000 people turned 65 every single day in the past 18 months. Some of these “new elders” attend your church. Who is prepared to step up in your congregation?

Play Freshen Up the Program video

Check out this video to hear more ideas for congregation to consider when making plans for older adult ministry. 

Take a look at previous posts for more inspiration for older adult ministry.

We Know Who to Trust

Dr. Mary Manz Simon, ALOA Board of Directors

I never anticipated that post pandemic conversations would call attention to a Christian virtue. And yet headlines, like this one, have made trust a recurring topic. When someone says, “I’m fully vaccinated,” can you count on them to tell the truth?

It all comes down to trust, truth-based communication. Trust means having faith. Trust comes when you are willing to rely on others, yourself and God.

You trust the driver will stop at the red light. You trust your friend will pick you up for church. You trust the doctor who reads the x-ray. And now, you trust the person who says, “I’m fully vaccinated.”

Statistics unrelated to the pandemic say that people lie about once a day. But psychologists say that right now, because there is no verification system or punishment for lying, some people will flat out lie about their vaccination status.

It’s not surprising, then, that social trust is low. What a blessing that our trust in God can be at an all-time high!

Trust in God is one of the most prominent themes in the Bible. Simply because we have lived so long, we have had multiple opportunities to, “Trust God from the bottom of your heart.” (Proverbs 3:5, The Message)

When we trust, fear goes away. And when we trust God, others will also celebrate a new sense of hope.

EQ_play video

Check out this video to hear how God equips us in new ways in our later years.

Take a look at previous posts for more inspiration for older adult ministry.

Breaking Out of Our Coccoon

Dr. Mary Manz Simon, ALOA Board of Directors

Stay home. Wear a mask. Maintain social distance.

Messaging during the past year has been strong. Fear of the invisible, but potentially deadly SARS-CoV2 (COVID-19) has kept us home-bound and dramatically re-shaped nearly every aspect of daily life.

Fully vaccinated, we can safely visit a neighbor. While masked, we can shop for toilet paper at a fully stocked store. And finally, our hungry arms can wrap around those we love the most.

Flip the switch. Start living again.

And yet, many of us older adults are only creeping toward normalcy. We naturally cling to the routines that helped keep us safe; letting go will take time. The extended months of isolation might accentuate our age-slowed response. Anxiety that built during confinement can undermine our confidence to resume activities. We might hesitate to transition out of isolation while risks loom.

After being fully vaccinated, consider these suggestions to safely re-enter society:

  • Honestly assess your comfort level with in-person socializing. Identify elements that will allow you to feel safe while navigating beyond your house.
  • Break out with brief, in-person social moments. Intentionally reach out to your neighbor. Go outside to talk with a friend who is dog walking. Start with small moments of humanity near home.
  • Stay up-to-date. Check your church website to learn the current schedule for in-person worship and small group activities. Confirm which protocols are still in place.
  • Seek help if needed. Post-pandemic responses include anxiety, anger, depression and withdrawal.
  • Be patient with yourself and others. We have suffered social deprivation for more than a year. Initial contacts might be awkward; stretching social muscle will take time.

God has led us through the Valley of COVID. He has been faithful. He is still present and in control. He is preparing an eternal home for us, but our time has not yet come. Until then, safely step into a new normal. Discover fresh possibilities to learn, grow and serve. Let the promises of Jesus, which sustained you and me through these difficult months, fill your heart with hope.

Coping Change_play video

Check out this video for simple tips on coping with change as an older adult.

You’ll find a bible study to accompany this video here

Take a look at previous posts for more inspiration for older adult ministry.

“WHOLLY WEAK” or HOLY WEEK?

Dr. Rich Bimler, ALOA Board of Directors

We are nearing the joy-filled celebration season of Easter! It’s been a tough journey for all of us, in different ways, but especially this year. Many of us are still “in shelter,” not equipped yet to get back to our old routines of living and being with people. I really do miss the hugs – how about you?

The reality of this Lenten and Easter season is to realize that we all are “wholly weak” when it comes to developing relationships with the Lord and His people. It has nothing to do with what we do or say and everything to do with what He has already done for us! It’s not about us – it’s all about Him! “Holy Week” is victorious over our “Wholly Weak”ness!

Author Eugene Peterson says it so well, “We wake into a world we didn’t make, and into a salvation we didn’t earn. Grace is underway before we even reach for the cornflakes!”

Watch and wonder how the Lord is at work in and through us. Remember the women at the tomb. “So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell the disciples.” (Matthew 28:8) . Perhaps we all are not able to “run” to tell, but we sure are able to walk or limp, talk and tell, love and forgive, heal and affirm, even though we too are at times “afraid, yet filled with joy”!

I must confess that at times I pray for an “Easier Life” rather than for an “Easter Life.” I may say, “Lord, can’t you heal my friend, make things happier, make people love and speak well of each other?” And God does…in His own way.

He does it by changing the “I” in EASIER to a “T” in EASTER! All the “I”s of our lives are replaced by the “T” of the Cross!

Thanks, Lord, for making our lives EASTER lives! Help others to see EASTER through us! “Wholly Weak?” No way! Each day of each week is indeed a HOLY WEEK, in the Resurrected One!

Take a look at previous posts for more inspiration for older adult ministry.

The Gift of Volunteering, Even in a Pandemic

Mary Manz Simon, ALOA Board of Directors

“Habitat is starting up again,” Michael said with a smile. The thought of hammering nails doesn’t thrill me, but this long-time Habitat for Humanity volunteer was eager to resume his three-times-a-week “job”.

Michael knows the joy that accompanies donating time and talents. Volunteering propels many older adults to get up every morning. While helping others, volunteers profit from the “helper’s high” and gain other physical and mental benefits. However, the bonus for older adults is that volunteering boosts our sense of meaning. Purpose-creating behaviors become increasingly important as we age.

That’s probably why my friend Sharon told me, “The hardest part of the pandemic has been that I can’t be at the hospital.” A long-time volunteer, she recently earned recognition for donating 1,000 hours to the local medical center.

Although traditional, in-person volunteering has plummeted, non-profits have reinvented ways to serve during the pandemic. Volunteers work within restrictions, while experiencing the giving that helps others and creates happiness within.  

If you seek to serve, check the website of a ministry that matters to you. Many organizations offer new and alternative opportunities.

  • Although church potlucks have been suspended, you might work with grab-and-go meals and meal deliveries that have filled some gaps.
  • In virtual run-walk events, individuals run solo then submit results. This reconfigured fundraising still allows volunteers to build community and reach shared goals.
  • In our congregation, a cadre of talented seamstresses has made hundreds of face masks. A basket of the free, hand-made masks, some with Christian messages, sits outside the church entrance.
  • Organized programs reach out to military personnel and first responders, but a formal plan isn’t needed to drop a note or send a card to family or friends.
  • Carrying a garbage bag while picking up trash in the neighborhood is a fun way to show that being socially distanced doesn’t mean being socially disconnected.

Pandemic volunteering comes in various shapes and sizes, but still creates happy hearts.

Take a look at previous posts for more inspiration for older adult ministry.

How SAGY Are You?

Mary Manz Simon, ALOA Board of Directors

Did You Have Any Idea You Were SAGY?

SAGY. Don’t be concerned if you don’t recognize that acronym. I made it up to highlight exciting news: Seniors are growing younger. SAGY is a perfect shortcut to describe this relevant fact of life.

SAGY describes what’s happening to us and our friends. Our functional ability today is better than those who were our age 30, 20, or even 10 years ago. Functional ability characterizes what you and I did this morning:  climbed out of bed, made breakfast, dressed, reviewed the schedule, prayed, and whatever else we did to get a good start. Functional ability describes the activities that fill our day.

Functional ability tests measure and gather information that can be used to plan the support services needed as we age. And guess what? Recent data released from researchers in Finland paralleled previous reports. Among both men and women aged 75-80, muscle strength, walking speed, reaction speed, reasoning, and other characteristics continue to improve when compared with data collected from those who came before us.

When we FaceTime a grandchild, finish a jigsaw puzzle, or chose oatmeal instead of a donut, we don’t stop to think, “I contributed to my functional ability.” But as long as we continue to make those great choices, you and I will be SAGY!

Take a look at previous posts for more inspiration for older adult ministry.