A Holistic Model of Ministry with the Aging:
Implications of Stewardship in Ministry with the Aging
- Author: Martha Baker as part of an Independent Study with Dr. Melvin Kimble, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN
- Updated: 11/21/2005
- Copyright: Martha Baker
"When using stewardship as a model for developing a holistic ministry with older adults, the unique gifts of the church cannot be overlooked. They must be incorporated and used as an integrating spiritual component to ministry. This needs to be intentional to be holistic. Stewardship, as a model, can bring tangible characteristics of a holistic ministry for older adults, such as assessment of need, inclusion of older adults in creating ministry, accountability, fiscal responsibility, and the recognition of the seeking out individuals with specific gifts to serve in leadership and board positions. Most of all, stewardship gives us many intangible characteristics that are helpful in creating a holistic ministry with older adults."
Stewardship is the concept that comes to mind when I think of creating a Holistic Model of Ministry with the Aging. God establishes the role of humankind as stewards of creation in Genesis 1:26. Stewardship involves so much more than pledging a tithe to the Church; it is recognizing the interrelatedness of all creation. It establishes our relationships with God (creature to Creator), the earth (creature to habitat and other non-human creatures), and each other (creature to creature). Stewardship is required of us as "creatures" that have dominion "over the fish or the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth" (Genesis 1:26). It is a responsibility not to be taken lightly. Stewardship is also a wonderful vantage point from which to explore the full potentiality of ministry with the Aging.
One might argue that a broader definition of "every creeping thing" would include some of humankind as well. After all, we start out in this world not even able to creep, but then progress to creeping as we learn to walk. Many older adults experience some loss of mobility as they age; and therefore begin to creep once again; there are also those who "creep" due to degenerative problems or congenital mobility problems. This raises the question of whether or not senior adults should receive special attention from a stewardship perspective. I firmly believe the answer is yes, because this notion is prevalent throughout the bible. A sign of a good life is said to live to be "three score and ten" (Psalms 90:10). We are to honor our fathers and mothers so "that our days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you" (Exodus 20:12). Sara is given a child in old age and Abraham becomes a father of a nation at age 90. Methuselah receives special recognition for living to be the oldest man. In the Old Testament, old age is a thing to be desired. Ruth's dedication to Naomi, the Ten Commandments, and other Jewish law require and exemplify honor for fathers and mothers, as well as special care for the widows. This is also the case in New Testament as well. In Acts 6: 1-6, the seven deacons are appointed by the church in Jerusalem to assure the equal distribution among the Hellenists and Jewish widows, who were dependent upon the church for sustenance since women who were not associated with males (fathers, brothers, sons) had no way to support themselves. Stewardship of resources as relates to senior adults therefore has a biblical precedence. One can see from the very early days of the Church, that the Church has struggled to provide for those who are in need, especially older adults.
The Creation story in Genesis also offers us a model of ministry with and for and by the aging. Initially, the church made sure that the widows without family support had someplace to live. As in Genesis 1, God created a place for man to live, the earth (shelter), on the first three days of creation. Likewise, the Church created homes for the aging. These had their birth around the turn of the century and continue today, although in a much altered form. On the third and fourth days God created plants and animals to feed humankind. Concurrently, the birth and rise of congregate meal sites and Meals on Wheels in the late 60's and 70's due to the Older American's Act was another large piece of the ministry and services with older adults. Then God created man and woman on the sixth day, and relationship and partnering became another important and necessary piece of creation and ministry with older adults. We see this in the rise of social ministry organizations in the 80's and 90's, as churches combine resources or began drawing upon the resources in the communities around them to help meet the needs of the older adults in their congregations and in the community at large.
This brings us to the Sabbath, that special day, when God rested, and enjoyed all of creation. I believe we are beginning to enter into a Sabbath time (Kairos) for ministries and services with older adults. Sabbath time is characterized less by doing and more by being. "Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day, God finished his work which he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from his work which he had done in creation" (Genesis 2:1-2). It is important to note that God finished his work on the Sabbath and then rested, yet it was the resting time that set the day apart. We are told in Exodus 20:6-11:
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your manservant, or your maidservant, or your cattle, or the sojourner who is within your gates; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it (italics mine).
Taking our analogy a bit further, the Church still has work to do in terms of ministry with, for and by older adults, yet the nature of the work is different from in the past. More emphasis is to be placed on helping seniors complete the work they have begun over a lifetime, physically, emotionally, intellectually, socially and spiritually. Ministry with older adults should help provide seniors with the spiritual tools and ways of giving meaning to their lives, so that they can continue to grow even closer to God in the Sabbath time. The analogy of the latter stage of life as Sabbath also means that older adults enter a time of active resting (contemplation), as they look back over their lives, and enjoy what has been, as well as resting to be prepared to continue and grow in their relationship to God and in service to others in the future. Kairos is so rich with meaning. It connotes a fullness of time, a culmination of the past in the present, and yet also implies fulfillment at some time in the future (McFadden and Thibault, p.231). It is a time for resting in the God who knew us before we left our mother's womb (Jeremiah 1:5) and is there to our very last breath. The Church is uniquely equipped to help bring meaning to this time of rest and inward growth. It is a time when the emphasis doesn't exclude doing, but begins to focus more on issues of "being", of being in relationship with God (spirituality) and with others (hospitality). It is a time of being uniquely oneself, and using the special gifts God has granted each of us to further his kingdom by intentionally growing theses gifts during this time of Sabbath rest. The Church is uniquely equipped to offer the gift of the Presence, hope, and a frame of reference for the losses and transitions that characterize the lives of older adults. However, the Church is just beginning to recognize the potential for improving the lives of older adults by the many unique gifts it has to offer. I believe that the Church as a primary delivery system for services to older adults is not complete without this. Otherwise, the Church has not been a good steward of all of life.
Implications of Stewardship in Ministry with the Aging
Stewardship also implies issues of social justice. As the Church, we often don't think of stewardship in these terms. Yet, we are often asked to give to the Church so that it can further God's kingdom on earth. We are told in Micah 6: 8 that what is required of us is not sacrifice, but "to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God," and in Amos 5:24 "But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream." Simple calculations in most denominations will show that a disproportionate amount of classes in seminaries, programs in churches, and ministries are specifically aimed at the youth. This is not to say they are not needed, because the Church is always needed at times of transition in our lives. We focus on the youth because they are at a vulnerable and transitory stage of life, but doesn't older adulthood also have potential vulnerability and times of great transition and losses? As the Church ages, and the largest birth cohort, the baby boomers, join the ranks of the elderly, swelling their numbers in the congregations, proportional attention should be given to older adults as well as their special needs. "Is it not a sin to allow the cult of youth so to dominate our practical theology that nearly all the work of may religious institutions is oriented primarily toward youth, children, and young adults to the detriment or exclusion of the older generation?" (Moberg, 1980, p. 287.) I believe that it is a sin. This is not good stewardship, and I feel it is an issue of social justice, the fair and equal distribution of resources, such as is seen in Acts 6. David Moberg also agrees that there are social justice issues in ministry with the aging. "Even in well-intended service by religious agencies, it is easy to make recipients 'objects of charity' when they are only asking for their just due. The demeaning occurs in part from confusing law and gospel, justice and love" (Moberg 1990, p. 17).
Churches are also notorious for expecting the older parishioners to be a primary giving source, because they often own their homes, no longer have to support children, and have retirement income that allows for more than simply meeting their needs. Yet what does the church give older adults in return? It is not that churches don't already provide valuable services to older adults, especially in terms of pastoral care to older adults and social ministry; it's just that the Church could be giving so much more. The church's theology and faithfulness can help people live with the unanswered questions that often besiege one in later life.
Developmental Psychologists and Logotherapists recognize the growing spiritual nature that characterizes later life, and the unique gifts that such a perspective can bring to older adulthood. Good stewardship would require the Church to acknowledge its unique gifts with regard to ministry with older adults. But it does not appear that the Church is fully aware of the unique position it is in to assist older adults to find meaning and purpose in their life lived, their present lives and in their future. Three pioneers in this field will be briefly examined.
Erik Eriksson in his developmental psychology theory of human growth and development divides the life course into eight stages, each with its own task to be accomplished and a goal to be achieved (Erikson, 1976, p. 25). Life is continually challenging the individual and the potential for growth exists to the end. The last stage in life is characterized by integrity versus despair, hopefully resulting in wisdom, the realization that you lived the best life you could, given your circumstances. As Erickson grew older, he felt he should add at least another stage to his life cycle, that of transcendence (Erikson, 1986). Erickson was a secular psychologist, yet he recognized the spiritual implications of late life. Surely the church must also recognize this. But does it?
Lars Tornstam uses the term "gerotranscendence" to describe the developmental stage of older adulthood (Tornstam, p. 179). In a qualitative study, he has shown that gerotranscendence does occur in late life, although not for everyone. It has more to do with how they have handled crises in the past and their coping skills. For those that do achieve gerotranscendence, it is characterized by such traits as change in the way one views time (from linear to circular-chronos to kairos); more thoughts about childhood; connection to early generations so that the distant past seems much closer than it did in younger years; a decreasing fear of death; more emphasis on the mystery of life; transcendental sources of happiness (such as music moving one to tears); self confrontation (taking the role of observer of self); decrease in self centeredness; and self transcendence, such that one reaches out beyond oneself to others (Tornstam, pp. 184-191). There are obstacles to gerotranscendence and these include: unnecessary material assets; too much activity and not enough solitude; life crises and one's coping skills; and lack of mediating bridges to transcendence, such as nature or music as tools for bringing one to transcendence in older age (Tornstam, pp. 195-197). Gerotranscendence involves both the psychological as well as the spiritual development of the person, further pointing to potential benefit of the Church in helping older people obtain this important characteristic.
Indeed, Frankl finds transcendence one of the ways humankind can find meaning until their last breath. It is one of his three ways to achieve the will to meaning, through creative value, experiential values, and additudinal values (Frankl, 1986, p.105). It is especially in the latter, that transcendence becomes such an important aspect. "Attitudinal values, however, are actualized wherever the individual is faced with something unalterable, something imposed by destiny. From the manner in which a person takes these things upon himself, assimilates these difficulties into his own psyche, there flows an incalculable multitude of value-opportunities. This means that human life can be fulfilled not only in creating and enjoying, but also in suffering" (Frankl, 1986, p. 106). For Frankl, to be human is to be oriented to the other, whether it be another human being, God, or some object, thereby being transcendent. "Man transcends himself either toward another human being or toward meaning. Love, I would say, is that capacity which enables him to grasp the other human being in his very uniqueness. Conscience is that capacity which empowers him to seize the meaning of a situation in its very uniqueness, and in the final analysis meaning is something unique" (Frankl, 1988, p. 18-19). Frankl's logotherapy is noogenic, spiritual, both in a non-religious and a religious sense. "But it is my contention that faith in the ultimate meaning is preceded by trust in an ultimate being, by trust in God" (Frankl, 1988, p. 145). For Frankl, the Church can be an important place where meaning may be found, but not the only place. Although he does not see meaning making as a unique quality of the Church, he nevertheless acknowledges the important role it can play.
If psychology has publicly acknowledged the need for transcendence and the growth and potential of the spiritual to bring meaning to later life, why has the Church been so slow to recognize it's unique gifts and talents in these areas? My contention is that if the notion of the Sabbath is applied to the older adult as well as the Church's ministry with, for and to them, the unique gifts of the Church will be utilized in ministry with the aging. This is good stewardship of the Churches unique resources.
Stewardship, as relates to ministry with the aging, also implies the notion of abundance. God finished creation and said it was good (Genesis 1:31). If senescence is part of the human life cycle, which God created and declared good, then it is appropriate to ask how can aging with all its losses and frailty be good? From a biocentric view, it is not good. From a stewardship perspective, there is still plenty of abundance to be enjoyed. Bernice Neurgarten talks of the growing interiority of older age (Kimble lecture, Aging and the Search for Meaning. and Tornstam, p. 178). I like to think of it in terms of the Mary and Martha story. It wasn't a matter of right and wrong, it is the issue of "being" versus "doing". Martha was distracted by her many tasks, just as we are in our youth and middle age. This can disrupt our relationship with God. That is why God tells us in Psalm 46 to "be still and know that I am God." In later life, when the distractions of raising a family or career are removed, we have more time to focus on "being", not to the exclusion of "doing," but we can give "being" greater emphasis in our lives. Mary, of course, did the better part by simply "being in Christ's presence" (Luke 10:38-42). Later life gives us an opportunity to grow in our relationship with God who desires our presence even more than we desire God's. God worked hard for six days creating the earth, but he rested on the Sabbath, and so we are to do so also. Wendy Lustbader states that if we haven't taken the time to grow and nurture the more creative and spiritual side of our personality prior to old age, then we are more likely to have a more difficult adjusting to the challenges of old age (dependency issues) (Lustbader, p. 2).
Another important notion of abundance is the fact that God has given us all that we need in creation. This notion is illustrated in Psalm 23:1, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want", or as is paraphrased "I have everything that I need." It is also a crucial concept in the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus tells us to be anxious for nothing (Matthew 6:25-34). Why should we think that we are not given the tools we need to live an abundant life in the last portion of our life? As reference by Thibault (p. 164) Carl Jung sums it up nicely in Modern Man in Search of a Soul, "a human being would certainly not grow to be seventy or eighty years old if this longevity had no meaning for the species to which he belongs. The afternoon of human life must also have a significance of its own and cannot be merely a pitiful appendage to life's morning". Viktor Frankl states that man has the potential to find meaning to his dying breath (Frankl, 1986, p. 300).
Jane Thibault equates the notion of abundance in later life with giftedness (Thibault, p 25-38). Everyone has been gifted with so many gifts by God that we often take them for granted. Developing an awareness of the giftedness of life helps one to see life as a joy, and not a burden, no matter what the life circumstances. Not only have we been gifted in general, we are also gifted with special spiritual gifts, that can be further developed and help us to have an intimate relationship with God and Christ. These gifts, if cultivated, provide a means for older adults to transcend themselves, and reach out to others.
Putting Stewardship to Work in Establishing a Holistic Ministry with Older Adults Stewardship is an important concept in establishing a holistic ministry for older adults because it:
ܦ Assures that the ministries planned are needed and desired by older adults
ܦ Assures that resources are being used wisely and that services are not being duplicated
ܦ Compliments and expands the philosophical and theological notion of ministry with older adults and the provision of services to older adults
ܦ Provides a spiritual framework unique to the work of the Church which can enhance the holistic nature of the ministry
ܦ Provides a model of abundance and growth, as opposed to the prevailing biocentric model associated with aging
Holistic Ministries with Older Adults
Any holistic ministry with older adults should include all the aspects of what makes us human. This would include components that address:
ܦ The social needs of older adults -- the need for fellowship, companionship, friendship, recreation, fun, and laughter
ܦ The physical needs of older adults -- exercise programs, health information, information and referral for older adults and their families regarding alternative living arrangements, transportation, basic needs such as food, shelter, and housing.
ܦ The intellectual needs of older adults -- opportunities to use their experience to help others, classes for intellectual growth and stimulation
ܦ The emotional needs of older adults - to have meaning and worth in one's life, support during times of transition and loss, services of healing and remembrance, the importance of rituals in later life
ܦ The spiritual needs of older adults -- Ministry of the Presence, ministry of reconciliation and healing, discerning spiritual gifts and finding appropriate outlets for them, addressing the need for a deepening relationship with God, end of life issues, life review, etc.
Holistic must mean integration of all aspects of the person. This can be accomplished as the qualities existing together in the person but as separate qualities, or one aspect of being is foundational to the other three, or the preferred concept that:
One of the various aspects of the person provides and integrative force for the person, permeating all other. Thus the focal dimension could not be separated from the other three, but rather provide the glue that integrates and hold together the other aspects of the person...A holistic philosophy would acknowledge and attempt to address the needs of all four aspects of the person, yet it would understand that it is the spiritual dimension that holds the individual together, providing an integrative force in the lives of people (Ellor et al., p. 104-105).
Little attention to date has been given to the spiritual needs of older adults in a comprehensive way, primarily due to the social ministry model that most churches and ministries with older adults have adapted. Using the stewardship analogy for developing a holistic ministry for and with older adults is one way to assure that the spiritual component is not overlooked. It is also important as a way to assure all needs are being addressed and resources are equally distributed, two important components of stewardship.
The Assessment -- the First Step
Perhaps a more traditional interpretation of stewardship would require a church to assess the needs of its congregation and the surrounding community to determine what types of ministry with the aging is needed. We are not being good stewards when we duplicate services that can be, or are being provided by social service or secular organizations. The first step for developing a holistic ministry with the aging is to complete an assessment, as suggested in "Ministry with Older Adults" (CARS, p. 5). It is important to familiarize oneself with the services that are already being offered and look for gaps in services, or needs that are not being addressed. It is important for older adults within the congregation to play a major role in the assessment process. Often the needs of older adults as perceived by those who have not yet reached later life, are different from the needs older adults actually have. It is good stewardship to use the resources of the entire congregation, including older adults, when assessing needs for ministry.
Being a good steward would require the church to be open to partnering with other organizations, in order to share resources and provide better service to and ministry with the aging. This is a growing trend among churches and social service organizations. The potential is that the church can supply not only volunteers and possibly funding, but that it can be a witness to God's love for us, all of us, even the old and the marginalized.
Using Stewardship as a Model for Implementing Services and Ministry with Older Adults
Being a good steward means recognizing the interrelatedness of all creation and recognizing the goodness of Creation, as mentioned above. A stewardship model of aging would have seniors help determine the needs for ministry, participate in creating and carrying out the ministry, and therefore providing additional realms of meaning in their lives. It also needs to be recognized that the aging are not a homogeneous group. Often they are categorized as the "young old", "middle old" and "old old." Each has its own set of needs and abilities that should be recognized and utilized in providing services and ministry with the aging. It is often the "young old" and the "middle old" who have the time and resources to minister to the "old old."
Good Stewardship means that a holistic ministry with the aging in a congregation or social ministry organization is carried out in such a way as to be worthy as a gift to God. Jesus' ministry was a social ministry. He met people where they were and healed them, all the while proclaiming the good news. As good stewards, much planning should go into the design and implementation of any ministries uncovered in the assessment. A mission statement and measurable goals are good ways to define the ministry and assure accountability. Accountability is a sign of good stewardship. There needs to be accountability no matter how small the ministry. This means that periodically, the use and success of the ministry is assessed to see if it is meeting its goals and purpose. Accountability also means that the sponsoring group(s) for the ministry or services to older adults feel(s) a sense of ownership of the ministry. If it is a congregation or a ministry team of a congregation, then periodically, reports should be made to the congregation about the progress toward the goals of the ministry to the aging.
Good stewards recognize that each of us is gifted and it is only in working together that all the gifts needed for the ministry are obtained. Paul talks of this in his description of the body of Christ (I Corinthians 12). Therefore, the unique gifts needed for those that will have oversight or will carry out the ministry, should be determined and appropriate people sought to fill them. If there is to be a Board of Directors, the organization may recognize the need for financial expertise, legal expertise, or fund raising expertise, and seek out board members who have these qualities. To be good stewards, the traditional business structure of board of directors that includes staggered terms of one, two and three years, as well as term limits should be adopted. This provides for smooth transitions of new members to the board and also ensures that the board will continue to grow and change as the circumstances of the ministry change.
Good stewards practice fiscal responsibility. Many ministries and services for older adults will only receive partial funding from the congregation. The leadership of the ministry must educate itself regarding other sources of funding, such as grants, endowments, bequests, and donations. Taking classes in grant writing, partnering with other organizations that have access to grants and grant writers, are all signs of good stewardship. Hiring consultants with expertise in these areas or in capital campaigns can also be a sign of good stewards. Leaders must utilize all sources available to them to assure that they secure the monies needed to operate and maintain the ministry or the services to seniors. This includes utilization of the special gifts of others in the ministry. Good leadership provides direction and structure for others to carry out their talents. It does not attempt to be a one-person show. Fiscal responsibility also means an adequate set of financial checks and balances, including financial statements and audits.
Good stewards also look at the interrelatedness of the ministry, or social ministry organization, to the congregation, synod, or community. Once the ministry is operating smoothly and has established a level of success, does the congregation want to incorporate it as a 501(c)3 organization? There are pros and cons to this. The Pros include: more secular organizations may be willing to partner with a separate entity under the church than the church itself; and perhaps it will be easier to fund raise for the ministry if it is a separate 501(c)3 organization. Cons include: the expense of incorporation; more stringent financial review will be required; and the loosening of ties with the parent church.
The Unique Contribution of the Church
Churches have tended to focus on social ministry organizations for providing services to older adults. There is no disputing the fact that some of the greatest tangible achievements of the Church are its institutions (hospitals, children's homes, homes for the aging) and social ministry organizations. However, if the Church focuses on just this one (but important) aspect, many of the unique qualities that the church can offer in ministry with the aging are overlooked. Good stewardship in terms of ministry with the aging would also require the church to realize the unique gifts it can give older adults to help nurture their continued growth. The most unique thing the Church has to offer is the Good News. As Jesus read from Isaiah 61 in Luke 4:18 "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to prepare good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable years of the Lord." The story of the thief on the cross shows that hope abounds as long as there is still breath within us (Luke 23: 39-43). It is never too late to change your life. All that is required is to believe. The Theology of the Cross is a great leveler of humankind, as is the notion of creature hood. All are welcome at the banquet feast, the choice is ours whether to accept the invitation or not, and the invitation is offered regardless of age.
Another unique gift that the church can offer is spiritual growth. It is amazing how little attention is given to this important gift within our churches. Yet, this is one of the unique things that only the church can offer. Jane Thibault suggests that the unique aspects of the Christian church for spiritual growth include helping develop a deepening relationship with God; providing an understanding of spiritual poverty, as roles and physical prowess associated with youth are lost and one becomes more dependent upon the gifts of God; the gift of repentance and forgiveness that is so important to closure and integrity in late life; teaching older adults the practice of contemplative prayer; educating older adults as to the special gifts of communion, including community, relationship, and gift; suggesting spiritual readings to help older adults to continue to grow spiritually; helping older adults see Christ in others; providing a safe place for the telling one's story (life review); offering opportunities for transcendence through music or nature; delving deeply into the nature of suffering, so that one may enter the passion of Christ and realize one's suffering is Christ's suffering; taking on the pain of others (substitutional or redemptive suffering); helping older adults see life as vocation, past, present and future; teaching older adults how to be a spiritual legacy for others and spiritual mentoring; and creating spiritual community (Thibault).
Others have added other unique gifts the church has to offer. David Moberg states, "Among all domains for change in human lives, the one that provides the most opportunity for continuing growth in the later years is the spiritual" (Moberg, 1990 p.9). His list includes life review, constructively mourning losses, ordering one's view toward the future, reconciliation (both individual and social), and community. He defines spiritual needs in later life as:
ܦ The need for meaning and purpose
ܦ The need for love and relatedness
ܦ The need for forgiveness
ܦ The need for spiritual integration
ܦ The need to cope with losses
ܦ The need for freedom to raise questions
ܦ The need for flexibility
ܦ The need to prepare for Dying and Death
ܦ The need to be useful
ܦ The need to be thankful
ܦ As well as numerous other spiritual needs (Moberg, 2001, pp. 161-166).
Harry Moody suggests that mysticism ("a detachment from a superficial experience of life in favor of a deeper reality hitherto unknown; dissolving of barriers between the self and the world; and a powerful sense of certainly and security that gives meaning to everything" Moody, p. 87-88") can mean a far-reaching reassessment of the possible meaning of old age. One can think of old age as a kind of 'natural monastery' in which earlier roles, attachments, and pleasures are stripped away. From the monastic viewpoint, isolation is not 'loneliness', nor a 'disengagement' a lack of charitable concern for the world...The mystical tradition provides the basis for a regulative ideal -- a sense of purpose and meaning -- for the last stage of life" (Moody, pp. 96-97). This definition is somewhat similar to that of gerotranscendence.
Vogel, using Fowler's structural theory of faith development, states that although many older adults never make it to stage 5 (Conjunctive Faith) some do. "These individuals do not impose their own meanings upon the world but rather remain open to new possibilities an new categories of interpretation. This requires 'new reclaiming and reworking' of their pasts" (Vogel, p. 77). She suggests that meaning making and soul nourishing are two important ways that the Church can facilitate growth to the highest level of faith development in older adults.
Pastoral Care is also a unique gift that the church can offer. I define pastoral care here broadly, as the charge of all baptized believers and not just the clergy (Luther's priesthood of all believers). All church members should be trained in the basics of good pastoral care, especially those participating in specific ministries. The gift of the Presence is vital to good spiritual growth. When I go visit at Lyngblumsten, I not only bring the gift of my own presence, but also that of the congregation that sends me, the presence of the pastor of the congregation, and most of all, the Presence of God. Just being there for someone is so important, especially if there are few, if any, left who have been there for them in the past. Along with the gift of presence, pastoral care can offer hope as pastoral caregivers help older adults who have lived their future stories and completed them, or who have no future story due to multiple losses, reshape their perspective so that they are able to see that future stories are still open to them (Lester p. 93). Frankl's notion of the existential vacuum is similar to the loss of hope due to a lack of meaning in one's life as in the loss of future stories (Frankl, 1984, 110-111).
The church can also offer the congregation as a "family" for those that may not live close to, or no longer have families, especially older adults (Brueggemann, p. 23). For Brueggemann, family is a covenantal relationship (Brueggemann, p. 19). Characteristics of a covenantal relationship include:
ܦ Based on a vow
ܦ Open to renegotiation
ܦ Concerned with mutual decisions
ܦ Affecting life and death issues
ܦ Open to various internal and external sanctions (Brueggemann, p. 18). The Church and the congregation are also covenantal associations. In the bible, "the family is the primary unit of meaning which shapes and defines reality" (Brueggemann, p.18). A tension exists between the family and the Church, as in the New Testament when Jesus tells those he is calling to leave their father and mother and come follow him (Matthew 10: 35-37). Christ calls people away from their family to establish a new family of believers. "The faith family thus is an opening for a new history in which all of life may be a zone of freedom and security. That is the family promised in the Gospel" (Brueggemann, p. 23). Some may argue that other social groups can also serve this purpose, but I am not certain they can, if one uses Brueggemann's definition of family and congregation as examples of covenantal relationships, built upon the same type of relationship as God has with his people.
Congregation provides pastoral care for older adults as well as the young, as they accompany, convene, connect, tell stories and allow the telling of stories, give sanctuary, bless, pray, and endure (Gunderson). Some of these characteristics are unique to congregations and are a gift the church can bring to ministry with seniors.
Local congregations also minister to the aging by the traditional ministry of word and sacrament, the ministry of information and referral, the ministry of ombudsman, and the ministry of advocacy (Becker, p. 174). It is the congregation's responsibility to understand the current ethical issues in aging and to advocate for justice on behalf of older adults, or empower them to advocate for themselves. These ethical issues may include a more positive view of aging, based not on the biocentric model, but a spiritual model; issues concerning livelihood and usefulness; dignity of life; elder abuse; minority elders; drug abuse among the aging; crimes against the elderly, and inappropriate commitment to mental hospitals (Becker, pp. 107-124). It is exactly the spiritual framework that the Church contributes to ethical issues that makes it so important for churches to make sure their voices are heard among the secular social service agencies that provide services to the elderly, and by the lawmakers who legislate in overt and unintentional ways the quality of life for older adults.
One of the reasons why the Church has not realized its unique gifts for ministry with and four older adults may be that traditionally, the Protestant churches have been concerned with religion, and less with spirituality (perhaps because it was so closely tied to the monastic life and thereby Catholicism). Another reason may be the spiritual is less known and tangible, therefore elusive. Religion and spirituality are related but are not interchangeable. Religion is often associated with personal beliefs and organizational practices. Spirituality is often associated with experiencing God and integrating one's beliefs and values into their behavior in everyday life (Moberg, 2001, p. 12). It is much more difficult to put spiritual qualities and gifts into words, because they are experiential and personal, and our language doesn't accommodate describing spiritual experiences well. It is easier to stick with the rituals, clerical pastoral care, and social service ministries that are more tangible and known, than for the Church to deal with the mystery of the unknown, which is the essence of the spiritual. Despite these challenges, if the Church is to truly be a good steward of its own resources, it needs to create programs and ministries with and for the aging that use spirituality as the integrating force behind the physical, emotional, and social and intellectual needs of the older adult.
Particular Spiritual Ministries the Church Should Consider in Creating a Holistic Ministry with Older Adults
Many issues have been discussed regarding the nature of a wholly integrated ministry with older adults carried out intentionally by the Church. Some of them have been more tangible, others more illusive -- rather qualities of a holistic ministry with older adults. It has been shown that a stewardship model of ministry with older adults would have to include the unique gifts that the church as to offer in co-creating with seniors older adult congregational ministries. An appropriate definition for older adults may be one of 55 or older and their families. In this way, the church could be instrumental in helping prepare people for retirement without having a crisis of meaning, and would also serve the families of older adults. The following is a non-exhaustive list of topics that I feel should be considered for incorporation into congregational ministry with older adults, which has an intentionally spiritual component:
ܦ Retreats for seniors, perhaps broken into the three age groups of seniors
ܦ Spiritual giftedness classes
ܦ Spiritual Journaling classes
ܦ Life Review groups for integration, integrity and closure
ܦ Conscious discernment of ethical issues involving older adults
ܦ Ministry of Reconciliation (Confession, Absolution and Forgiveness)
ܦ Ministry to the Dying (Terminal Illness Support Groups)
ܦ Loss Support Groups
ܦ Meditation and spiritual reading classes
ܦ Yoga, Tai Chi, or some other spiritually integrated physical activity
ܦ Contemplative prayer, or other forms of prayer, such as centering prayer
ܦ Blessing of the dwelling if older members move to a new environment
ܦ Traditional pastoral care ministries that are provided by lay and clergy
ܦ Recognition of the transcendental power of music for older adults
ܦ Bible studies and other relevant classes to stimulate their minds
ܦ Providing opportunities for meaning building in the lives of seniors
ܦ Utilizing the talents of seniors to help others, such as spiritual mentoring
ܦ Willingness to use spiritual tools from other faith traditions
ܦ Helping older adults bring ritual back to their lives to provide meaning
ܦ Opportunities for fun and recreation among seniors and young alike
ܦ Fostering spiritual growth until the end of this life in preparation of the life to come
The Church has done an excellent job of meeting the physical, social, and emotional needs of older adults through congregational ministry and social ministry organizations. This has been no small feat, and the process has changed and evolved over time, similar to the story of creation. However, when using stewardship as a model for developing a holistic ministry with older adults, the unique gifts of the church cannot be overlooked. They must be incorporated and used as an integrating spiritual component to ministry. This needs to be intentional to be holistic. Stewardship, as a model, can bring tangible characteristics of a holistic ministry for older adults, such as assessment of need, inclusion of older adults in creating ministry, accountability, fiscal responsibility, and the recognition of the seeking out individuals with specific gifts to serve in leadership and board positions. Most of all, stewardship gives us many intangible characteristics that are helpful in creating a holistic ministry with older adults. These include the relational aspects of our creature hood and subsequent interrelatedness with all of creation; social justice issues in terms of a proportionate use of resources by the Church for older adult ministry; recognizing and employing the unique gifts of the Church in terms of ministry with older adults; and the concept of abundance (we have everything we need) and therefore the implied importance of older adults in the life of society and the Church. It has been shown that the unique gifts the Church has to offer are spiritual in nature, yet these have been overlooked for a variety of reasons in creating ministry with and for older adults. It is time for us to come to the Sabbath, to embrace kairos, to focus more on "being" more than "doing" in later life, to rest in past and present relationships with God, and rest for the future work (vocation) that all are called to do until their last breath. The Church and ministry with older adults must now complete its growth process, and recognize its special qualities and attributes. It must offer them for use in creating intentionally holistic ministry with seniors that sees the spiritual component as the integrating factor that connects the physical, social, intellectual, and emotional aspects of older adults.
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