This is the final post about ministry for mature adults inspired by the Seasons of Adult Faith Formation book, symposium, and special issue of Lifelong Faith Journal.
Intergenerational ministry is crucial for all ages, but especially with those 55 to 75. “People who age well often have growing relationships with younger people and are involved in learning and growth opportunities.” (Gentzler, R. H. “Congregational Vitality and Older Adult Ministries.” Lifelong Faith, Fall 2012, 54)
During a workshop Rev. Ramonia Lee, chaplain of an interfaith center, recounted that age-segregated ministries often do not appeal to Boomers; “. . . . they will take advantage of every possible opportunity to mix with the generations.” Lee said, “They want partnerships with other groups in the church and the community, including mission groups, choirs, coffee conversation groups, even confirmation classes with older members studying with the children.”
Likewise, intergenerational ministry benefits younger generations: “Social scientists have worried about how few opportunities our contemporary culture offers for inter-generational exchanges, and the extent to which this generational segregation deprives younger people of the opportunity to witness the generativity, engagement, and aging of older people.” (Lawrence-Lightfoot, S., The Third Chapter: Passion, Risk and Adventure in the 25 Years after 50, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2009, 241)
For any culture to flourish, younger people need the examples, witness and stories of real-life people growing older and acquiring wisdom. (Kotre, J. “Generativity and Cultures: What Meaning Can Do,The Generative Society: Caring for Future Generations. Washington, DC, American Psychological Association, 2004, 41)
“Wise elders play an important role in various indigenous faith traditions, and the emergence in our time of more older people embracing Fowler’s universalizing stage has substantial cultural and spiritual implications for the future of human civilization. We know the world population is growing older with a promise of future hope that only a few researchers have noted (Roszak, T., The Longevity Revolution, Berkeley, CA: Berkeley Hills Books, 2001).
Fortunately the awareness of—and the planning for—intergenerational learning is growing. Churches respond to intergeneration ministry in numerous ways: small groups, faith formation opportunities, prayer and worship, service and outreach.
One example of bringing the generations together in service is exemplified at Grace Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX where they participate in Church Apartment Ministry, in which Grace Presbyterian maintains an apartment for families of patients coming for cancer treatment at the Texas Medical Center. The Encore 50+ Ministry coordinates this outreach; the young adults of the congregation do most of the cleaning and maintenance as well as helping the families move in. The older adults visit the families and patient, offering to bring them to church, and provide meals.
Another activity employed by many churches for enjoyment as well as learning is movie afternoons or evenings. Some congregations host these events only for adults, or only for teens, or only for children, but many bring all generations together.
One way to connect with and build on intergenerational programming, especially in faith formation, is to shape all offerings of the congregation—intergenerationally as well as with specific age groups—around one specific theme. If the year’s theme is prayer, in addition to the intergenerational learning opportunities, events and offerings can continue that theme for those mid-50’s through mid-70s.
Many mature adults grew up when their identity flowed from a life of spiritual practices. In recent years, more and more people have advocated for the return of spiritual practices, such as hospitality, Sabbath moments, living gratefully, seasonal celebrations and rituals, service/justice, savoring beauty, nature, pilgrimages, forgiveness, suffering, art, mindfulness, journaling, simplicity, wonder, quiet.
This return to spiritual practices especially appeals to maturing adults because there is a link to the past coupled with a practical application to life today. Effective and valuable adult formation within our congregations would include a study/reflection on the meaning and understanding of each practice and a variety of ways to experience and live the practices. (See Living Well Christian Practices at LifelongFaith.com.)
For many, life reviews and legacies are a meaningful spiritual practice and effective faith formation experience.
In our later years, the pace of making sense of our entire life quickens. Internal and external forces converge, giving us the opportunity of gaining a global perspective of how God has been at work in all the days of our lives. We search for the patterns, themes, successes, and failures that have combined into the amazing amalgam we call our life. In our later years, we arrange the facts of our life into a cohesive whole. We take stock of our life as we never have before. We see new themes, new strands, new waves in our life that we missed in our day-to-day living. (Johnson, R. P., Parish Ministry for Maturing Adults: Principles, Plans & Bold Proposals, Twenty-Third Publications, 2007, 102)
Inviting and equipping people in mature adulthood to purposefully reflect on their lives is a constructive approach to cherish life, to deepen meaning, and to share legacies. Keeping in mind the varying learning styles and people’s different preferences, there are numerous ways to invite people to participate in this: writing memoirs, previewing and assembling photo albums, taping memories and stories, expressing life moments and history through art, creating memory gardens, giving away mementos/distributing possessions to others, developing family histories or genealogies, making trips to family homes or pilgrimages to locations of family/spiritual significance and autobiographies or life histories.
Incorporated into these life histories, adults in their maturing years might also be invited to reflect on their legacy. What are they passing on to the seventh generation (a Native American tradition)? A reflective time to think about the following questions, and perhaps write them down for their families, can be very affirming:
• What are four of the spiritual gifts God has given you?
• To whom would you like to give these gifts?
• What are four of the talents God has given you?
• To whom would you like to leave these talents?
At one church, a person’s real-life journey of writing a spiritual autobiography touched many others. Mary had no idea why but she felt led to begin writing her life story. It was a few months after her husband died, a very difficult time in her life. No one suggested journaling, jotting down her thoughts and feelings, or writing the story of her life, but, all of a sudden, Mary felt a yearning to write her story. An outline formed in her mind, flowing from “the houses she lived in” and thus her spiritual autobiography began.
After its completion two years later, Mary gave copies to her children, brothers and a few friends. With its conclusion, Mary realized that the writing of her story brought much healing during a time of grief, and although she didn’t start out to intentionally write about the God moments—how God was present—it became obvious that those times just naturally surfaced.
A couple years later Mary participated in a program, Becoming Well, Wise and Whole in our Maturing Years, with Richard Johnson. As Johnson spoke of some topics that are helpful to maturing adults, he mentioned the power of writing a spiritual autobiography. Mary said, “All the bells went off. I knew all the good it had done for me; I was very sure of the beneficial things it could do for others.”
Thus, with the support and encouragement of the adult faith formation coordinator at her church, Mary created a workshop on “The Whys and Hows of Writing a Spiritual Autobiography.” The purpose of these gatherings was to share with the participants a method, some tips, and helpful do’s and don’ts for writing a spiritual autobiography.
As the participants began writing, and then re-gathered at each subsequent session, they talked about what they had written, about their experience of writing, about what was happening to them in the process writing. In this sharing, people experienced being a community standing on holy ground.
Many experts challenge congregations to create compelling opportunities for service and outreach, for as a researcher at Peter Hart Associates commented: “For this generation of older Americans, volunteerism is about something much more substantial and real than taking up time in their day. . . . it is about filling a need, their need to both make a difference and be involved” (Hart, P., The New Face of Retirement: An Ongoing Survey of American Attitudes on Aging, August 2002, 3).
The variety of opportunities for the mature adult planned and offered throughout churches include service within the congregation as well as outreach to the community and beyond. Such delivering Meals-on-Wheels, providing transportation, mentoring, serving in homeless shelters and soup kitchens, serving as companions to people in need, sharing job skills and expertise with those in the community, visiting nursing home and the homebound, singing in a choir for worship or concerts, and providing home repair for those in need.
Gary McIntosh (“Trends and Challenges for Ministry Among North America’s Largest Generation.” Christian Education Journal, Series 3, Vol. 5, No. 2.) helps us to summarize many of opportunities available for ministry and faith formation with Baby Boomers or mature adults by offering these recommendations.
1. Build a ministry for Boomers that is adventurous. Rather than mall walking, consider hiking in the mountains, cross-country skiing, or snowshoeing. Remember: Boomers have always seen themselves as a youthful generation, and they still do!
2. Build a ministry for Boomers that is fun. Rather than potluck luncheons, consider catered parties, fishing trips, paint ball competitions, and team-building camps. Remember: Boomers are not looking for a seniors’ ministry; they are seeking an older youth ministry.
3. Build a ministry for Boomers that is significant. Rather than being served, consider serving others by building a home for Habitat for Humanity, assisting missionaries, helping out-of-work people to find a job, or tutoring children. Remember: Boomers desire to make a difference in the world by taking on great causes.
4. Build a ministry for Boomers that is educational. Along with Bible studies, consider CPR, basic first aid, personal health, managing finances, and public speaking classes. Remember: Boomers are an educated generation, and they wish to continue learning to the end of their days.
5. Building a ministry for Boomers that is spiritual. Rather than offering simplistic formulas, consider prayer walks in the neighborhood, intercession teams, and a variety of small group sharing. Remember: Boomers are a mosaic of sub-groups, and it will take a multi-dimensional approach to spiritual formation to reach them.”
For complete copy of the special issue of the Lifelong Faith journal on adult faith formation, click here.