I’ve written in this space (here, here and here) about the challenges some over age 40 have when it comes to maintaining meaningful connection with their local churches. I am always on the lookout for people and congregations doing some creative thinking about how to nurture spiritual maturity for those at midlife and beyond.
Dr. Gail Bones has written a very helpful exploration on the subject of transition in Living Cross Wise: Hope and Help For Navigating Transition (Treasure House Publishers, 2013). This 12-chapter, 200-page workbook is a thoughtful, Biblically-rooted study of the uprooting, disorienting nature of change, loss and new growth in our lives. She notes, “As painful as it is to be stretched, both in labor and in life, (transition) is an essential part of giving birth to something new.” Each chapter includes a helpful, wise reflection, a set of discussion questions that would work in a small group or to be used as journal prompts, five days of Bible study questions, some thoughtful quotes, additional reading suggestions and a memory verse. A couple of appendices are designed to assist readers in prayerfully naming their priorities during a time of change. She includes a word of instruction on how to run an intergenerational group to walk through this excellent material.
Peace Lutheran Church in Joplin, MO ran a Vacation Bible School for seniors. Activities included Wii and iPhone instruction, greeting card making, a class focused on helping participants write a personal history, crochet and choir groups, a space to simply hang out and talk and more. While many of us over 40 recognize that a week-long program in and of itself will not reconnect disenfranchised people back to a local church if the church does not have an ongoing year-round commitment to value and integrate older people into the life of the congregation, I applaud Peace Lutheran Church’s intentionality and inventiveness.
One of the hospice nurses helping me care for my mom during the final weeks of her life told me there were few nursing homes in her native Jamaica. People took relatives and even childless neighbors into their homes when it was no longer safe or wise for them to live independently. Daniel Darling wrote (here) about the responsibility we have as believers to consider how to love God by loving our aging family members. “Care for your parents is a reflection of what we believe about the gospel,” he wrote. “It seems we need to recover this ethic in church life. I fear that our good desire to reach the next generation becomes an obsession with youth so much so that we often leave behind the aging. I wonder if we’ve imbibed too much of our culture’s pragmatic utilitarianism that discards people when they are no longer at peak usefulness.” His suggestions at the end of the article should provoke some reflection among church leaders about how to express the kingdom of God in the caregiver’s trenches. So many of us at this stage of life are involved in caregiving for either parents or grandchildren, and few churches seem to have given much thought to how to provide spiritual support to those in the often-thankless role of pouring their lives into the lives of others.
If you know of a congregation that does this well, please contact me! And if you have run across other ways in which a church is applying some creative thinking in regards to connecting its older members to the life of the congregation and to God, I’m all ears.