Accelerated Aging

Dr. Mary Manz Simon, ALOA Board of Directors

“I’m too young to look so old.”

Woman applying face cream

Has that thought crossed your mind? As the pandemic drags on, some of us have discovered the mirror doesn’t lie. One poll discovered that women feel they aged four years in a single pandemic year.

Another study found the nation’s blood pressure has increased. Signs of pandemic-accelerated aging aren’t imagined. Scientists agree: the pandemic is aging us at a faster-than-normal pace.

Before-and-after pandemic photos confirm this fact. “Stress aging” of the past two years can trigger an unwelcome chain of events which has a cumulative effect on how we feel, look and behave.

A flurry of anti-aging solutions offers the usual suggestions. Exercise. Eat smart. Improve and extend your sleep. Practice stress-reducing activities including meditation, yoga and spiritual discipline to meld body and mind. And now, sport enthusiasts would add, “read the headlines to be encouraged.”

Three “Golden Agers” have been praised as inspirational human beings “not being slowed by age.” Tom Brady, Lindsey Jacobellis and Nick Baumgartner deserve the accolades. Forty-four-year-old Brady briefly retired after 22 years of NFL football. Thirty-six-year-old Jacobellis became the oldest American woman to win an Olympic medal. At age 40, Baumgartner, her snowboard cross partner, was the oldest American athlete at the Beijing Games.

Uplifted? Invigorated? Motivated?

Although I respect, appreciate, and enthusiastically applaud the stellar performances of world class athletes, I’m more inspired by some true old timers.

  • Noah, who at the age of 600, grabbed a hammer to build an ark longer than any of Brady’s football fields.
  • Or Joshua, who at 101 years of age modeled leadership as the walls of Jericho tumbled before him. He didn’t wait for someone else to step forward.
  • Or Anna, a night owl who was “very old”, her work ethnic continued even as she led a somewhat eccentric life.

Age doesn’t define impact when God leads the way.

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.

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.