By Billy Kluttz and Elizabeth Boyd, Seabury Resources for Aging
Postcards to homebound parishioners, telephone prayer services, spiritual resources for aging: these are just a few of the ways that parishes and Episcopal-associated non-profits in the Diocese of Washington are reaching out to local older adults.
Recognition and relationships: A common concern as we age is maintaining strong social connections. Churches are fighting social isolation among elders and recognizing older adults for their service to the church and community. St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church in Silver Spring has created a postcard ministry to connect younger and older parishioners. Young churchgoers regularly create and send beautiful prayers and artwork to homebound members. St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Capitol Hill is creating a new liturgy in recognition of older adult life transitions. The new celebration will celebrate elder milestones in the congregation this summer. Likewise, the annual Seabury Celebration of Service recognizes the work of older adult volunteers from across the Diocese.
Classes and connections: Congregations are also creating new resources for both practical and spiritual learning for older adults. St. Mark’s Episcopal Anglican Church in Silver Spring worked with Seabury Resources for Aging to create its Conversations at Eleven series. In this weekday forum, St. Mark’s welcomes community organizations to present on common aging interests and concerns. St. Mark’s will continue this popular series this year with an emphasis on women’s heart health. In 2017, the Episcopal Diocese of Washington and Seabury also partnered to create Sightlines, a new pilot curriculum exploring the nexus of spirituality and aging. This multi-part course exposes older adults to spiritual resources for aging, reframes broader questions associated with aging through a spiritual lens, and helps participants reflect theologically on their experiences and relationships as they grow older. Seabury has offered the Sightlines series twice and looks forward to expanding the program to serve congregations across the Diocese.
Creative worship: Congregations are also using creative worship to connect with older adults. St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church in Silver Spring started a weekly phone-in Evening Prayer service for parishioners of all ages. Older adult members are finding new connections through the service. “The idea came about because we realized that most of our housebound parishioners were not able to access our Facebook page to watch Sunday services,” said Rev. Sarah Lamming, rector. “We wanted to see if they would use the phone, instead.” The answer was a resounding “Yes!,” with longtime members reconnecting with each other–and the church–after hiatuses not of their choosing. The age range on the calls actually stretched from 9 to 89, making the service also intergenerational. In a similar way, during 2018 and 2019 Seabury will partner with Episcopal and United Church of Christ congregations to create a series of participatory intergenerational worship services specifically designed for older adults and people with disabilities. This program is made possible through a Vital Worship Grant from the Calvin Institute of Worship, Grand Rapids, Michigan, with funds provided by Lilly Endowment Inc.
Does your congregation’s ministry with older adults need a boost? A new direction? Or, something–you’re just not sure what? A few thoughts to keep in mind:
- Ask older adults what they need! Continuing a ministry model just because it’s always been done a certain way nearly always leads to its demise.
- Don’t be afraid to innovate (see examples above).
- Reach out for ideas and expertise (Don’t “reinvent the wheel.”).
Seabury Resources for Aging will consult with you about older adult ministry design and development. Contact Elizabeth Boyd, Congregational Resources Coordinator.