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Spirituality ... Faith - The Word

Invent New Forms of Senior Adult Ministries and Community Seniors Ministry

by Rev. Dale Susan Edmonds, M.Div., Talk Early, Talk Often

Senior adult ministries have long lived on the edges of many congregations. Beyond occasional visits, flower deliveries or a handmade card from a children‘s class, the needs of elderly citizens are complex and their numbers are rapidly expanding. And the needs of adults with aging parents are growing just as rapidly. New forms of seniors ministry in the congregation and the community can address many problems.

"There is a real appetite for ways of living into old age that reduce loneliness, strengthen links with the community, and are based on mutual relationships and reciprocal support."

Congregations can play a key role in this.

1. Religion and Health

Reconfirmed in recent studies, the positive link between religious involvement and physical and mental health has been well established.

“People with a strong personal faith who regularly attend religious services generally have lower blood pressure; are less likely to suffer from depression; have greater sense of well-being; have stronger immune systems; and live longer-- 23% longer, according to a long-term study by Dr. William Strawbridge and other researchers [American Journal of Public Health, 1997]

That is not to imply that people who are involved in their congregations do not become ill or experience serious health related problems. However, taken as an aggregate, participation in a religious community has an overall positive impact on health. A supportive community, grounding in hope, affirmation for personal value and well-being, developing concern for others all play a contributing role.

But, “At the time when religious support is most needed, older persons are less able to access it (due to failing health, immobility, or lack of transportation.)”

2. Ministries Across Generations

As technology continues to rapidly change and expand, there can be new opportunities to involve youth of congregations in outreach ministries with elders in the congregation and the community. The imminent digital television conversion provides just such an opportunity. The issues involved in the conversation are very simple for those that are technologically savvy, but can be completely overwhelming for people who still use rabbit ears and change channels by hand! The DTV transition is an issue that could keep groups involved for a while. Not every one will be successful in the first few days.

Youth in congregations could be a vital resource in helping to see that technology is an asset in the lives of older members. They can start by organizing to make sure that no elderly member of the congregation has their television go dark after they get a gift. How many older people will receive a new flat-screen television, or DVD player, or switch from cable to satellite dish? How about a new computer for the first time? Or even a new cell phone?

New technology is unbelievably complex for many senior adults. An older relative recently got a new DVD player as a present. After frustrations of getting it to work, a neighbor finally came by and started the movie. But afterward he could not get it to stop because no one had explained the menu system and how to navigate through the options! Many seniors will not be able to make the transition smoothly, so your group's help will still be needed.

3. Creative Brain Fitness Opportunities

There is incredible new research about Brain Fitness and the role of keeping mentally challenged and leading a stimulating life leads to greater health and overall well-being. While numerous residential communities have experimented with offering new programs for developing cognitive reserve, this is a new possibility for congregations to incorporate into their approach.

4. Spiritual Eldering for Growth and Service

Dr. Drew Leder from Loyola University in Maryland is among a growing number of thinkers who are developing an approaching to senior adult ministries that incorporates cultural wisdom from generations past. Their approach called “Spiritual Eldering” focuses on the value of aging as a unique stage of life. Their attempt is to create intentional environments where the elderly are invited to reflect on their own life stories and lessons learned as well as encouraged to offer guidance, their acquired wisdom, and mentoring for the good of the greater society.

Spiritual eldering is not an invitation just for those vigorous seniors in good health. Leder and others see illness and disability as another avenue toward spiritual growth and wisdom that can be shared.

5. Caring for Caregivers in the Family

Caring-giving for elders can be one of the leading stressors on families. Adult children increasingly find themselves as part of a sandwich generation, tending to the needs of their children and grandchildren, as well as their aging parents. Congregations have a wide open field to nurture the nurturers and provide much needed guidance and resources.

Adult children are often caring "long distance" as families are scattered across the country and around the globe. Adult children balance complex schedules of travel to offer care, with work and other family obligations. They have a need to develop trusted local resources who can sometimes communicate needed information or provide local emergency contacts. Senior adult ministries could provide such a link.

6. Advocates in the Health Care System

Families are challenged by interacting with health care systems and sometimes needing to make complex ethical decisions with little time, understanding or guidance. Senior adult ministries could be a vital link in providing discussions and educational opportunities about senior safety, other issues of elder life and advance care planning . They can actively encourage members to talk early with family members and consider a varieties of possible scenarios for the future. They can advocate for completing vital documents and making sure those documents are stored or distributed appropriately.

Rev. Dale Susan Edmonds, M.Div. is a Hospice Chaplain; Founder: Talk-Early-Talk-Often.com and a Family Communication Coach

Wise and Wonderful

Sarah Collins The Little Guide to Big Changes Wellness Care Today Visualize a flower becoming a bud, and then slowly growing into the beautiful flower it is meant to become. This is a great metaphor of the journey of life. Just as a flower reaches its peak of beauty at full maturity, the senior years […]

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