You know the one. It’s the heavy bin, nearly overflowing with photos, Kodak slides (remember those?) and random bits from the past.
As the pandemic drags on, finding ways to feel productive has been increasingly difficult for older adults. Socializing safely is nearly impossible as outdoor temperatures drop. Volunteering is still limited. Gray winter days mirror our mood. Perhaps this is the day to drag out that bin. After all, looking back can give us the courage to look ahead.
As we get older, our life stories take on a rosy glow. Researchers tell us there is a positivity bias in aging. This new “strategic memory” leads us to focus on what matters. Quite simply, we can become more aware of God’s footprints.
Life doesn’t fall into neat little categories, so our Christian beliefs and behaviors are woven throughout the years. Reviewing the past through a lens of faith causes us to recall what God has been doing over time. When we look for God’s footprints, we see how busy He has been.
Sorting through the mementos, we might identify a situation in which God steered us through a crisis. Dusting off the photos, we might see how God blessed an important relationship. And through the process, we become more aware of His continuing presence.
Today, let’s step back and notice God, again! For when the Holy Spirit guides our thoughts we won’t merely say, “Thanks, God, for the memories.” We will say with new conviction, “Thank you, God, for your faithfulness.”
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Check out this video to find out more how older adults have a unique advantage in listening to and helping others.
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:
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?
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.
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?
Check out this video to hear more ideas for congregation to consider when making plans for older adult ministry.