Give me that old-timer religion news

elderly in churchLeading off a package of religion stories in the Lansing State Journal this morning is a solid feature on the effect the growing elderly population is having on religious communities.

The story is broad and expansive, and rather than just looking at Christian churches, the reporter looked at a Hindu and Jain temple, an Islamic society and a synagogue. Here is what one of our readers had to say about the inclusion of those traditions in this religion piece:

Of particular interest is the sourcing of both local Jewish and Islamic interests written into the story without exoticism or excess fanfare. In fact, the way that the story is written, the issue of aging does exactly what it should do — unite disparate members and institutions of the local community, rather that automatically divide people between religious traditions.

The story leads off with a professor criticizing seminaries for failing to prepare their students for congregations that likely include substantial populations of elderly and retired people. Rather than simply focusing on the programming activities that some groups are working to improve, the article looks at the spiritual challenges individuals are facing and how churches are trying to address them:

“Thirty years ago, people who retired would have quickly seen themselves as aged or elderly,” said John Burow, a Delta Township Lutheran minister who teaches workshops on preparing spiritually for retirement. …

And the roles that our culture offers to seniors “are not sufficient for the 15 or 20 years of mental and physical vigor” that people now will often have left after retirement, he said.

“It’s unworthy of a spiritual being to totally wrap their retirement around their Winnebago or their golf game,” he added.

Kathy Hubbert, 67, spent a recent Saturday morning in the basement of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Lansing, pondering retirement at one of Burow’s workshops.

Hubbert, who lives in Lansing, worked as a nurse for more than 35 years. She didn’t think much about retirement until she found it upon her a year and a half ago.

“It’s hard to make that transition from a hard-working person to all of a sudden getting up late and thinking ‘What’s the purpose of today?’” she said.

The other stories, which are all shorter and more focused, deal with a variety of important issues. According to numbers from the AARP, Baby Boomers are supposed to remain seekers with tenuous ties to congregations as they age. While it is always questionable to rely on one group’s statistics, it is an important issue, and the article finds good examples to go along with the numbers.

Another short story deals with how the elderly are “vulnerable” to donation appeals. While I do not doubt that the elderly are vulnerable to donation pitches and that there are preachers who would love to take their money, it is also true that some elderly are able to give away more money.

The last two stories are particularly solid. The first discusses the effect of religion on the elderly with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia, and the other discusses aging clergy.

Overall, the package is a great example of how to tackle a major issue in today’s society and pair it with the equally compelling subject of religion. If only more local weekly religion sections of American newspapers could be half this strong in terms of quality content.

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  • Chris Bolinger

    Most reporters ignore topics like this because there is no political angle. Kudos to Miller for covering the subject. I was a little disappointed, however, that the story did not delve into how older members of churches can serve their congregations. With wisdom borne of years of experience and study, older members can and should be mentors and teachers.

    “People who are retiring, now, whether it’s at 55 or 66, often have an image of themselves that they’re vital, they’re energetic.”

    And the roles that our culture offers to seniors “are not sufficient for the 15 or 20 years of mental and physical vigor” that people now will often have left after retirement, he said.

    Why aren’t more churches getting more from their energetic, vigorous seniors?

  • Jerry

    I’ve not yet read all the stories but I do agree with you. It’s a pleasure to read such stories.


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