Whose role is it to ensure that the ageing members of our community stay involved in the lives of our churches?
Is it the responsibility of pastors and chaplains? Families and friends? Aged care workers and nurses?
The answer, of course, is that all members of the church have a part to play in ministry with the ageing.
“I think we need to be more intentional about caring for our neighbours,” says LCA Executive Officer for Local Mission Dr Tania Nelson.
When older congregation members remain active participants in their community, they bring a wealth of wise and loving contributions to the life of the church.
It is important for churches to remember that ministry with the ageing does not need to be at the expense of bringing young people into the church. On the contrary, child, youth and family ministry is meant to be intergenerational, where young, old and everyone in between can learn from each other.
“It’s not meant to be just ‘to’ the ageing, as if I’ve got all the answers and I’m going to minister to someone. It’s ‘with,’ as in ministering alongside the ageing, because they’ve got things to contribute,” Nelson says.
“I love seeing, for example, a church council … that might have an over-70-year-old on there, and an under-30-year-old on the church council, and then people in between.”
There are three important factors to consider: intentionality, connectedness and reassurance.
Firstly, intentionality; congregations should make a conscious and enthusiastic effort to keep ageing members of their community involved and ensure they are well.
“More and more people are quite wanting to stay in their own home … and perhaps only moving into a nursing home or into some sort of palliative care, a hospice or whatever very late,” Nelson says.
“Which means we’ve probably got an increased need to make sure that people are okay in their homes.”
Connectedness is about taking one step further than just getting elderly members to the church doorstep on Sunday mornings (although this is an essential service). It is important to reach out with events tailored around their interests and concerns, which allow opportunities to connect with one another and with other generations in person, serving and learning alongside them.
“Ensuring that connectedness is the vital piece,” Nelson says.
And lastly, reassurance. Nelson says that the risk of ageing members being left out of the loop, in addition to loneliness (which often leads to adverse health), is that this leaves elderly people vulnerable at a time when they are asking the question, ‘Have I done enough?’
“They’re contemplating approaching death, and wondering whether they’ve been good enough, or regretting decisions they’ve made or opportunities missed.”
By keeping the ageing community involved in the life of the church, it helps them to stay grounded in the gospel and know that “it’s got nothing to do with whether you’re good enough; it’s actually got everything to do (with how) Christ has been good enough.”
“That kind of reassurance is needed at every age and stage,” Nelson says.
For more information about Ministry with the Ageing, visit the LCA website.
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