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Being Church: Loving Senior Adults

A decade ago when I was in divinity school at Gardner-Webb University, I completed an assignment for my Pastoral Care and Counseling class that was insightful at the time and continues to prove useful to me now. The task was to complete a systemic model for care in the church using Erikson's Stages of Development.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/forbesoste/

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about pastoral care for those in Erikson's last stage of development: Mature Adult, ages 65 +, Ego Integrity vs. Despair. I pulled up my project to review the thoughts I had back then when I was elbow deep in pastoral care textbooks. In my opinion, these ideas are helpful to anyone who desires to show love to people in this late-in-life stage.

I offer that portion of the project below with one caveat: it is more academic than what I usually post here. SO . . . If it's more than you want to read, would you just do this one thing: check in on my father-in-law a senior adult you know. For example, offer a ride to Tuesday morning Bible study at the church. Or plan a breakfast outing; maybe the senior adult you know loves to go out to breakfast. Talk to them. Find out what his or her interests are. Ask for help; it's so nice to be needed. Don't forget about him, whoever he is. I bet it's really hard on his family who aren't local. I bet those who live locally would really appreciate co-travelers in this grief journey. You know, whoever they are. My 97 year old friend Mary said it best: "Just don't forget about us. Remember us."

(Watch for an upcoming post with specific how-to ideas and feel free to comment and offer ways you would like to see the church meet the needs of senior adults or ways you've seen this kind of ministry done well.)

granddaddy and beagle
Isabella Beagle (with Granddaddy in the background)

PASTORAL CARE: A SYSTEMIC PLAN
(completed for Dr. Doug Dickens, PC&C, GWU, 2010)

Mature Adult, ages 65 +, Ego Integrity vs. Despair.

Mature adults need pastoral care to help them feel connected and valued. Pastoral care at this stage includes care for the children of the mature adults and often care for their aging parents as well. Mature adults must be cared for so that they do not despair.

  • Physical Care
    • Mature adults need an allotted space that is familiar and welcoming. This is particularly important to senior adults who are losing their vision or their mobility. Familiar space makes church attendance more feasible within their limited abilities.
    • Church transportation should be made available to mature adults who are unable to drive. (Or who may be hesitant to drive at night or long distances)
    • The church should be accessible to members who struggle with mobility issues. That is, elevators and ramps should be readily available. Restrooms should be adaptable for those with mobility impairment.
    • Bible study materials, church newsletters, and other church publications should be printed in large, easy-to-see print.
    • Hearing assistive devices should be available in worship spaces.
    • Leaders should be sensitive to hearing loss—a common problem in this population—and should attempt to speak clearly and directly to mature adults. (Look at people when you speak and be sure listener can see your lips move.)
  • Emotional Care
    • Church members should be sensitive to the needs of mature adults who are experiencing life changes such as retirement, illness, or loss.
    • Churches should offer topical studies on budgeting, aging, aging parents, grief, and other such topics that relate to mature adults.
    • Support groups and classes for grieving mature adults should be made available.
    • Mature adults should be paired with younger adults who they can mentor.
    • The church should celebrate milestone moments with mature adults. Moments such as marriage of children, becoming grandparents, or retirement all offer opportunities for celebration.
    • Weekend retreats to interesting locations should be offered to mature adults. These weekends away increase connectivity and provide opportunities for developing new relationships.
    • Entertainment opportunities of interest to this age group should be frequent and accessible. Church transportation should be provided.
  • Spiritual Care
    • It should not be assumed that mature adults have made decisions about their faith. Therefore, persons in this age group should also be invited and encouraged to make faith commitments.
    • Biblical instruction must not neglect the basics of the faith. Leaders should not assume that all Bible study participants know the old, old stories.
    • The church should provide assistance to those planning memorial services or funerals. The care should involve not just technical and logistics help, but also emotional support throughout the process.
    • Senior adults should participate in and volunteer for mission activities.
    • Mature adults who are also mature believers should be included in the church diaconate and on other committees within the church. They should be encouraged to lead Bible study classes also.
    • Mature adults should assist in worship leadership. By participating in church music, reading scripture, taking offering, or leading in other ways, mature adults can feel valuable to the congregation and therefore less likely to despair.
    • Members should be sensitive to particular needs of mature adults, offering encouragement to those who are dealing with parents growing old, their own physical limitations, loss, relocation, and retirement
    • Members should avoid using labels to refer to other church members. Stereotypes should also be avoided. Instead, the message of God’s love should be paramount.

About the Author Aileen Lawrimore

Aileen Mitchell Lawrimore is a mother x 3, wife x 28 (years not men), minister, speaker, writer, retreat leader, and lover of beagles and books. She has a lot to say.

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1 comment
Cindy Whitaker says August 13, 2019

I am so thankful that I knew enough about the Bible to answer my Daddy's questions after he was saved at the age of 62. He only had a 7th grade education, but in the 5 or so years he lived after his profession of faith, he literally devoured the Bible! He had a lot of questions! We all need to be ready to step in when anyone, at any age, needs us, but more so the older generation. If we assume they are ready for the move to Heaven, we could lose someone dear to us for all eternity.
Thanks, Aileen. Another great post!

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