Part 2/4 in a series about how churches develop mission outreach to aging family and elder church members
As Jesus’ hands in the world, guided by the Holy Spirit to demonstrate His love through our actions, church mission must include seeking out those who are isolated due to age or health and support and encourage their families.
John 4:35 “Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.”
Churches need to recognize the need to reach out to children of aging parents in a multidimensional ways. What services they can be offered to adult children and spouses caring for loved ones? Perhaps Parentcare support groups, Bible study with respite care, regular adult day care, and at the very least, some form of regular and frequent home visitation for the older church member, to provide companionship and spiritual care. If we come to see Elder care as a mission and ministry, we will deliberately and actively seeking out isolated older members and the people who care for them. In isolation, our Elders suffer. We (the focus of the church as a whole) are neglecting the spiritual care of older adults and their adult children.
In preceding years, churches grew from the younger ages on up. Young families were embraced, children grew up learning about Saving Grace, play groups formed, families met in fellowship and worship and community was built. 25 years ago, that was what drew me in the doors. As the mother of two preschool aged children, I became hungry for a foundational faith we could grow as a family. I was initially attracted to the church because mothers in my La Leche League group were members. I found a wellspring of children’s activities, and became immersed in the church/child/parenting culture. It was vibrant and fun and alive, full of music and song.
My current church home is a rapidly aging congregation who span 50-101 years across a few dozen members. Most no longer participate in outreach activities. There is little engagement between this church body and adult children, our youth are a small handful of great-grandchildren of longtime members.
Previously, I shared the story of Mae and the encounter I had with her son. We have 4 such “Maes” in the last year. Physical decline, cognitive impairment or some other combination kept them from worship and activities. Their adult children don’t engage with the church much, perhaps because no one is left for them to connect with, perhaps because they feel overwhelmed trying to get Mom to church and, perhaps, because no one is reaching out to them. This would explain Mae’s son’s anger toward the congregation he grew up in.
Allow me to unpack that just a bit:
First, these activities need to fall to someone other than the Pastor. Pastors already have a full-time calling, and what I propose requires a called and gently trained team for this mission outreach, not unlike Stephen’s Ministries of recent years.
Small group outreach: Eldercare Advocates can be trained to run small groups for spouses or adult children caring for parents. A ministry opportunity exists people come together to share stories, build support networks, learn about local resources from each other and receive spiritual care. By understanding the needs of these families and their challenges in co-generational care, an environment can be developed to support study and worship participation for all generations.
Respite care: Developing a respite care program -perhaps a lunchtime activity – on a regular basis allows time for self care for other family members. Through regular, scheduled activities trusting relationships are built.
Home visitation More than monthly prayer and sacraments, we can bring time, companionship and respite to the home. Loneliness experienced by homebound or institutionalized Elders causes suffering, which none but family and care providers hear. Home visitation, especially when coordinated with the family offer respite and time for Spiritual care as well.
My calling is to help churches and families find creative ways to meet the needs of a rapidly growing population of Elders. They way we have cared for the aged and fragile in the past will no longer be sustainable. We need a new model that begins in the family, in the community and addresses not only the physical, but the spiritual needs of Elders and their families. Time is of the essence.