This enlightening article by Tom Perry was published in the Spring 2021 issue of the National Association of Directors of Christian Education (NADCE) quarterly.
There were two churches, each with a hidden treasure. The first church’s treasure was amassed over many years. They kept the treasure safe and hidden, so that it would continue to be with them for many years to come. As time went by that secure treasure became forgotten and unused. The treasure was still there but its full potential was not realized. The second church also amassed a great treasure over many years. They put their treasure out for all to see. They opened the lid of the treasure chest and invited all to partake in its value. As the treasure was used, more treasure was added. As the treasure grew so did the people of the church.
The above illustration points to the choice a congregation has when ministering with and to older adults. They can be cherished by being set aside and cared for, or they can be cherished as a readily-used tool in God’s kingdom. Often a congregation will look to their senior members with love and want to make them comfortable. While this is admirable and needed, if congregations stop there they miss out on the treasure of love, experience, and expertise collected for decades. The life experience older adults have gained is waiting to be harnessed and used.
Many Churches do an excellent job of spiritual care. They also do what they can to assist in making everyday life easier for their senior members. However, a wise church will also try to find ways to incorporate seniors into all aspects of church life, recognizing they have so much to give and a (sometimes hidden) willingness to give it.
Approximately six years ago, Trinity Lutheran, located in Mission and Shawnee, Kansas, developed a Senior Ministry that supported and enhanced an already highly active senior group. One of our lay deacons was hired part-time to develop and oversee this ministry. Working with staff members and members of the congregation, we continued existing opportunities and developed new ones. We define our Senior Ministry as people of retirement age and older, and welcome them to be involved in all parts of Trinity’s ministry. It is especially exciting to see the way our older folks and younger people come together to help and assist each other. The interplay between generations benefits each age group and advances the work of the church.
Trinity has a very active preschool program. The preschool students are always eager to make cards and presents for our senior members, especially around holidays. In return, many seniors enjoy reading children’s books to the kids as well as coming in and telling them stories about their lives. Unfortunately, this pandemic-laden year has made personal interaction a challenge and they look forward to when they can resume their treasured interplay.
Our Sunday school-age kids also have the opportunity to interact with older adults. A favorite activity both groups are looking forward to is the few minutes of one-on-one mentoring before Sunday school. This is an activity that has been going on for years in which an adult and child are paired up and talk about their lives as children of God. When the students go through confirmation instruction they again are paired up with a mentor. Every week during Lent the two ages spend approximately 40 minutes talking about their lives and their faith, and often long-lasting friendships are made. It was fun to see how one of our 16-year-old boys teamed up with a ninety-year-old member on a woodworking project for the youth lounge. We try to encourage this mentoring and friendship-making because both receive so much from the intergenerational interaction. The project was beautiful, and the friendship is heartwarming.
The year 2020 was challenging for older adult ministry. We have had to adapt to staying at home, masking, and social distancing. For a group of people who enjoy the fraternal relationship with others, the isolation has been saddening. We have had to learn new skills with technology which has enabled us to see and hear each other and participate in Bible study, even though we can’t give hugs. A special effort was made this year to identify and use the gifts God gave to seniors in the area of writing. We have shared poetry and prose with the congregation on our website and the development of this year’s Advent devotional.
In a more normal year where we can get together and enjoy each other’s company, the older adults take part in multiple Bible classes throughout the week and host monthly seminars and talks that all may attend. They include topics in three different areas: spiritual well-being, health, and life issues. Experts are brought in from the community or the congregation to give a better understanding of specific topics. An example of this was when our church organist spoke about how our church organ was made, the inner workings of the instrument, and the many different sounds it can produce. This was attended by a variety of age groups.
We also look forward to coming together again for senior ministry meals and congregation-wide meals. We usually provide four or five meals per year at no cost. They are normally around the holidays, and always at Oktoberfest! Our group is instrumental in hosting congregational meals as well. Every Easter a special brunch is provided by our youth group. They provide wonderful casseroles and serve them to the wide span of generations in our congregation. When confirmation classes kick off, the older adults provide a pot-luck picnic for the students and their families. As it is written in the book of St. Thomas “wherever food is eaten, seniors gather.”
The older adults of Trinity are treasures in all aspects of our church life. They serve on committees, hold offices , assist with worship, volunteer in the church office, run charity drives, teach Bible classes, and call on the homebound. By providing opportunities for them to continue serving as blessed children of God, we hope to display that treasure . There is no higher honor or privilege than to be a useful servant.
Tom Perry is a credentialed Lay Deacon of the Kansas District, Missouri Synod. He works part-time at his home congregation Trinity Lutheran, located in Mission and Shawnee, Kansas as the Senior Ministry leader.
One of the resources I enjoy reading is the monthly newsletter put together by Dr. Richard Bimler. It is called “Rich and Charlie Resources.”