Do You Want to Live to 100?

Dr. Mary Manz Simon, ALOA Board of Directors

If you hope to be a centenarian, the future might be closer than you think.

A new “Life Map” released by the Stanford Longevity Center reveals that living to one hundred might become the norm, not the exception. After all, many of the 10,000 baby boomers who turn 65 today are expected to live well past the age of 90. The big question is, “How can I maximize this bonus time?”

Health realistically defines the outer limits. But within those boundaries, three steps can help us maximize these years.

  1. Reevaluate what it means to grow old. Chronological age is no longer the only metric. Looking beyond outdated stereotypes, research suggests that older adults show superior judgment, reliability, and mentoring skills than those who are younger. At our age, we can “see the forest through the trees.” Who can benefit from my lifetime of knowledge and experience?
  2. “Backfill” later years. In the traditional life map, early years are front-end loaded. Education is crammed into the first two decades, yet learning is a lifelong process. “Backfilling” as an older adult might involve taking a class, teaching others or mastering a new technology. However, we need to be emotionally open to growing. In what ways am I willing to change and learn?
  3. Focus forward. Look at peers for clues to healthy ageing. Don’t merely watch those vibrant 70 year olds who play pickle ball at 7 am. Be inspired by the neighbor smiling from her wheelchair or the stroke victim who shuffles into worship. How can I move past the challenges I face today?

Regardless of our age, you and I are still God’s unfinished masterpiece. (Ephesians 2:10) In what ways will you honor the Creator today?

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

More Than Memories

Dr. Mary Manz Simon, ALOA Board of Directors

Has that box of old photos been calling you?

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.”

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

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.

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.

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.