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.

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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.

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.

“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.

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.

Avoid the “Woe Is Me” Scenario

Mary Manz Simon, ALOA Board of Directors

Have you hosted a pity party recently?

Although this singular event respects social distancing – after all, group size is limited to merely me, myself and I – whining isn’t useful. Griping or going totally ballistic drains energy and takes us farther away from the positive thinking of our Christian mindset. Even worse, researchers tell us that chronic complaining can rewire our brains. Simply stated, complaining is habit-forming.

The aches and pains that come with aging offer multiple opportunities for negativity. But dreary self-talk signals the need for an attitude adjustment. Step beyond gloom and doom by taking these steps:

  • Honestly face underlying feelings. Merely pretending to be positive is a dead-end solution that can further drain our emotional banks. If you deserve to have a crabby morning, wallow in negativity for an hour or two and then move on.
  • Surround yourself with optimistic people. Scientists say our brains unconsciously mimic the moods of those around us.
  • Be alert to sudden negativity that signals a significant change. Irritability can be caused by medications, drug interactions, infections or illness. Apply knowledge of yourself to determine the need to reach out.

In the Bible, we read that Moses got so tired of hearing the Israelites complain that this mighty leader begged God to kill him! To avoid God’s complaint threshold, choose gratitude over grumbling. Your brain will be healthier, and you and those around you will be happier.

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

Uplifted During the Pandemic

Mary Manz Simon, ALOA Board of Directors

Is there reason to be feeling uplifted during this crisis?

Absolutely!

Not only is God active, He’s busy! Each of us can list numerous ways we’ve seen God at work among us.

I’m encouraged by the recently released 2020 Passion Points Study. Although neither older adults nor Christian teaching is the focus of this annual research, a single line in this year’s study jumped out: “One result of the pandemic is an increasing desire to celebrate and preserve family traditions.”

Perhaps COVID-19 has made even those in younger generations more aware of mortality. But whatever the reason, the study indicated that legacy thinking is heading downward. The emotional wiring of younger generations is changing.

Can you catch a glimpse of the opportunity? Family members might be longing to hear about the good old days, and this time, they’ll listen! During these uncertain times, we can be inspired to learn how ancestors coped with a disaster, problem or personal tragedy.

As older adults, we’ve lived through tough issues. However, we are living proof the family survived. Hope and optimism are bundled into every family legacy.  

Scientists tell us that emotion enhances memory and feelings activate the brain. Even if your memory is foggy, reach back to remember a situation or incident when you felt something. Then share that story. Resilience and the certainty of God’s promises will shine as your empathy connects and communicates.

And that’s critical, because your story reflects how God’s story is being revealed even during this crisis.

Which important relationships can you strengthen during this unexpected season?

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

Sign of the Fish? Or, a Shy Evangelist?

Mary Manz Simon, ALOA Board of Directors

“Lutherans are a little shy, you know,” says Linda Widman, Ft. Myers FL.

Yet, Linda, a lifelong Lutheran, has witnessed to countless numbers through her necklace ministry.

Years ago, she started wearing the simple circle of fish around her neck. Every day, she wore the same gold-hue necklace. Linda says, “I stopped buying other jewelry, because this is the only necklace I wear.”

“Christians are in the minority,” Linda continues. “Wearing it was my way of saying, ‘I’m a Christian and forgiven sinner.’”

Now widowed, the retired nuclear medicine tech still wears a fish necklace each day. The symbol reflects an Ichthys, Greek word for fish. During times of persecution, early Christians used this sign to connect with other followers of “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior.”

Linda’s not-so-silent witness often becomes the topic of casual conversation. As a result, her outreach multiplies each time she gives away the necklace she’s wearing.

“If a person promises to wear it, I’ll give it to them,” she says. But there’s one stipulation: they need to wear the necklace.

“I tell them, ‘This won’t do any good in your jewelry drawer at home,’” Linda explains. “Several years ago, at the RV resort in which I was living, I looked across the room during one of our dinners at the River Clubhouse. There were 30-40 ladies wearing the necklace. That was pretty cool.”Until recently, Linda kept a stash of the inexpensive jewelry on hand, ready to give away. However, her supplier no longer inventories the product; her stockpile is dwindling. As Linda searches for a new source, she is confident God will provide both the necklaces and the people with whom to share the message. Linda is proof that not all Lutherans are shy evangelists!

We desperately needed this Easter!

Mary Manz Simon, ALOA Board of Directors

My brain is exhausted. I’ve spent hours debating a question with potential life and death consequences: “Should I shop for groceries?”

Even a simple decision is so complicated. As older adults, we are acutely aware of the dangers. Many of us have medical issues which make us even more susceptible to complications from the coronavirus.

“Should I shop for groceries?” My decision weighs heavily; that choice could impact me and the elderly cancer survivor next door. The responsibility is overwhelming.

Multiple levels of thought are needed before taking the simplest actions. Complex issues continually reshape a reality we could have never imagined. Everything is so difficult; brain fatigue is a condition of the evolving new normal.

We each crave the safety of familiar routines that gave our days such order. We hunger for the hugs that reflect personal relationships. We long for an end point to this madness. We desperately needed Easter.

Did you hear the angel’s urgent, new relevance in the message at the tomb? Adapting pandemic language, “Be mindful, not fearful,” came through loud and clear.

In the Gospel of Mark, we read that on the first Easter, “when the women ran from the tomb, they were confused and shaking all over. They were too afraid to tell anyone what had happened.” (Mark 16:8, CEV)

We now understand such paralyzing fear; coronavirus statistics soar to staggering heights. Mysterious microbes float unseen, yet land everywhere. Rumors, fact and fiction intertwine. The sheer stress of the crisis triggers irrational behavior. Yet the angel’s message so long ago is clear for us during this Easter week: “Be mindful, not fearful.” Stay in the moment, but don’t dwell on your fear.

The Resurrection vividly reminds us that “Christ died and was raised to life, and now he is at God’s right side, speaking to him for us.” (Romans 8:34) Even now, Jesus has the ear of His Father. Even now, Jesus is pleading for us with God, our father.

“Be mindful, not fearful,” for when we shift away from fear, the promise of Easter is revealed.