Why Older Adult Ministry?

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Chemical Technology and Metallurgy - Sofia]On: 24 November 2014, At: 04:34Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House,37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Journal of Religion, Spirituality & AgingPublication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/wrsa20

    Why Older Adult Ministry?Donald R. Koepke MDiv and BCCPublished online: 17 Oct 2008.

    To cite this article: Donald R. Koepke MDiv and BCC (2005) Why Older Adult Ministry?, Journal of Religion, Spirituality &Aging, 17:3-4, 1-6, DOI: 10.1300/J496v17n03_01

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1300/J496v17n03_01

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  • Why Older Adult Ministry?

    Donald R. Koepke, MDiv, BCC

    SUMMARY. Ministering to Older Adults: The Building Blocks offers anapproach to the systematic development of programs and services for theaged that focuses on spiritual not just psychosocial needs. This model hasbeen proven to work in over forty congregations of various denominationsin southern California. The questions surrounding the task of planningolder adult ministries are explored without giving the answers, whichmust come from the reader. This chapter concludes with four reasons whya faith community should begin and/or enhance their older adult ministryin preparation for exploring the rest of the book. [Article copies availablefor a fee from The Haworth Document Delivery Service: 1-800-HAWORTH.E-mail address: Website: 2005 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved.]

    KEYWORDS. Systemic, spiritual, psychosocial, model, theology, tra-dition, experience, grey hair

    Since the initiative of the current wave of older adult ministries in the1970s, the most common approaches emphasize psychosocial supportof older adults. These important programs address such issues as mean-ing in retirement. One such group was the S. O. B. Club. It was foundedby a Presbyterian pastor who heard from the older women of his parish

    [Haworth co-indexing entry note]: Why Older Adult Ministry? Koepke, Donald R. Co-published si-multaneously in Journal of Religion, Spirituality & Aging (The Haworth Pastoral Press, an imprint of TheHaworth Press, Inc.) Vol. 17, No. 3/4, 2005, pp. 1-6; and: Ministering to Older Adults: The Building Blocks(ed: Donald R. Koepke) The Haworth Pastoral Press, an imprint of The Haworth Press, Inc., 2005, pp. 1-6.Single or multiple copies of this article are available for a fee from The Haworth Document Delivery Service[1-800-HAWORTH, 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. (EST). E-mail address: docdelivery@haworthpress.com].

    Available online at http://www.haworthpress.com/web/JRSA 2005 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved.

    doi:10.1300/J496v17n03_01 1

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  • that there was a need for activities to engage newly retired men in orderto get them out from underfoot of their wives. Many other groups havetaken on holiday meals, support groups, and friendly visiting. More re-cently, congregations have begun to ask the question how do we focusour programs more holistically to include spirituality?

    This volume is based upon the experience gleaned from teaching El-der Ministry in the Congregation, a model for Older Adult MinistryDevelopment. To date, forty congregations have experienced a plan-ning process in which clusters of congregations meet together for plan-ning one day per month for six-months. As a result: twenty-four of thosecongregations have, at present, an organized, intentional, and focusedolder adult ministry. Some congregations have been suburban churches,some city churches. A few were largeworshipping over four hundredpersons per week. Some are smaller, with fewer than a hundred wor-shippers. Most have been moderate in size, worshipping between onehundred to two hundred persons per week. Most are multi-generationalcongregations but a few were inundated with gray hair. A few congre-gations have had paid staff specializing in Older Adult Ministries(OAM); however, most have only one pastor and an all-volunteer com-mittee. This model of program development has worked across theboard for those congregations that have trusted the process, done thehomework, and have been intentional and focused in their planning.

    This model does not advocate for a one-size-fits-all model of OAM.Instead, it will share a planning process in which the essential questionsare raised, allowing for planning committees and the reader to developanswers that fit the needs, culture, history and structure of the congrega-tion. The Appendix has camera-ready forms and charts to be used toguide the planning process.

    WHY AN OLDER ADULT MINISTRY?

    Why develop an older adult ministry in a congregation? Few congre-gations have such a ministry. Fewer still provided such ministry in thepast. Why now?

    First of all, the number of older adults in the United States and manyother countries worldwide is increasing. The elderly have always beenwith us. In recent years, Ronald Reagan became the oldest person to bePresident of the United States. John Adams, 91 years old (1735-1826),was the previous holder of this distinction (John Adams was President

    2 MINISTERING TO OLDER ADULTS: THE BUILDING BLOCKS

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  • of the United States from 1797-1801). Older adults are critical both ascitizens in the community and as parishioners in the church. Seniorssurpass all other age groups in voter turnout in most elections. They arealso critical in congregations as leaders, role models, and as personswho contribute financially in disproportionate amounts.

    In 1900, the average life span in the U.S. was forty-seven years. To-day, life expectancy is seventy-seven years. The U.S. Census notes thatin 1990, 1.2% of the population was over 85 (3 million) while just 10years later, 1.5% of the U.S. was over 85 (4.3 million)1 (U.S. CensusGov: General Demographic Characteristics). There is expectation thatby the year 2050, 1.4 million persons in the U.S. will be age one hun-dred and over.

    Yes, people are living longer. However, they are also living longer intheir homes. Even the Federal and State Governments attempt to helppersons remain in their homes as long as possible, developing programssuch as Meals on Wheels, Care Connections, and Home Care. Today,persons usually enter a retirement community because they either needservices or are anticipating needing services. Until that time, the elderlyremain where they always have been: in their homes and in their congre-gations. If any church organization is going to address the needs of theelderly within a community it is going to be the congregation, not someagency of the church. There is more.

    Eighty percent of all caregiving is done by relatives within the home,and the need for assistance with at least one activity of daily living(bathing, dressing, etc.) doubles every five years beyond age sixty-five.2 (Caregiving in the U.S.A survey conducted by the National Al-liance for Caregiving and AARP, April 2004, pp. 9-47). For example,in a group of one hundred persons age sixty-five, let us hypotheticallysuggest that five need caregiving assistance. By age seventy that samehundred people will have ten persons needing assistance. By age sev-enty- five the number will have grown to twenty. By age eighty, fortywill need care. By age eighty-five, around eighty of the original onehundred will need some type of assistance in order to have quality oflife. Couple this statistic with the previous one, where eighty per cent ofall caregiving is done by relatives in the home and one quickly sees thechallenge for congregations. No longer can we say let our faith-basedsocial service agency fill the need. The fact is that people are not call-ing the agency until they are forced to call. They remain in their homes,in the community, in the congregation.

    Donald R. Koepke 3

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  • Why Have Older Adult Ministries in a Christian Congregation?

    There are essentially four reasons why Christian congregations shouldbe at the forefront of providing services to and with older adults in theircommunities. Compassion for the aged is reflected in virtually all of theworlds religions. For example, Christians live in the belief that they areloved by God. They are not loved because of what they can do or whatthey have done but because of Gods love (as ultimately seen in Jesus ona cross). People of any age need to hear that they dont have to producein order to be loved and worthy. For the elderly, the diminishments ofage make that belief not just important to life but essential for life. Topeople whofor reasons outside their controlare unable to drive a car,balance a checkbook or see clearly enough to cook a meal, the wordsyou are loved just as you are take on a life-giving meaning. That ideais often hard to accept but that is the reason for the ministry: to help peo-ple surrender in trust.

    A second reason for older adult ministries in a Christian congregationis that many churches affirm the value of tradition. Many still celebratethe birthdays of saints who are 1,500 years old. The essential stories arefamiliar (like reading the story of Jesus birth on Christmas Eve fromthe King James Version). To people who are trying to make sense outof their lives and preserve their sense of self in a fast-changing world,where to be young is king, the affirmation that the past is valuable andworthy of reflection if not emulation, is a powerful word indeed.

    Third, many Christian congregations (within their faith group) havelots of practice providing ministry to and with older persons. Many de-nominations have provided a ministry with older adults for centuries.Lutheran Social Services, Catholic Charities, Presbyterian Homes, andMethodist groups have provided the staples of life for thousands of peo-ple. In fact, the present day retirement communityeven if it is not faith-basedowes its life to churches that first began this type of ministry inAmerica.

    However, the fourth reason is the best. Christian congregations shouldbecome involved in older adult ministry because within their member-ship they have a lot of gray hair. What do people say to each otheraround the coffeepot of many congregations that perhaps are dwindlingin numbers? What we need around here are more young people. Isthat statement true? Is it but a caving in to American cultural worship ofyouth? Is it failing to reflect local demography? Older people often agein place creating what they perceive to be a problem with too manyolder adults and not enough young people. The challenge is to support

    4 MINISTERING TO OLDER ADULTS: THE BUILDING BLOCKS

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  • older congregations to see the presence of older adults as a strengthrather than a weakness.

    In the past, churches were grown with young people. Many an eldercan remember 250 children in a Sunday school or fifty people in thenewly married group at church. The strategy seemed to be: Get peo-ple to commit themselves while they are young and you will have an ac-tive church member for fifty years. However, is that paradigm stilloperative? For decades since World War II, America has been a countryon the move. Talk with most people and much of their family lives moreout-of-state than out-of-the-neighborhood. It is my understanding thatthe average stay in an American home is five years, not fifty . . . exceptfor the elderly. Of course, sooner or later, older persons leave the com-munity either to live close to the kids or to enter a retirement commu-nity. Still, their stay in the community is much longer.

    For example, a congregation makes a concerted effort to reach out toolder persons above sixty-five years of age. Not only are they reachingout to a group that few churches in the community even thinks about,but there are an increasing number of sixty-five-year-olds each yearwithin their community. Where younger persons remain for an averageof five years, persons age sixty-five are not only more healthy and ac-tive than the past but they might be in the community for fifteen years(seventy-seven being the average life span). In a presentation given onFebruary 9, 2000, entitled Aging in the 21st Century, Stephen Sappsaid that if a congregation focused solely on older adults for their newmembers, providing a vital, focused ministry, that congregation wouldexperience, on average, a five per cent to ten per cent net increase inmembership. Stephen Sapp is Professor and Chair of the Department ofReligious Studies, University of Miami. He is the author of severalbooks including Light on a Gray Area: American Public Policy on Ag-ing, Abington Press, 1992.3

    One chaplain in a retirement community recently noted that many ofthe residents who are still able to worship in churches in the communityare bored with their church. Its not that nothing is going on. Its just thatnothing is going on for them. The sermons, hymns, and the style of wor-ship are geared to younger folk. The church is still proclaiming a mes-sage but not one that answers t...

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