When I began my work with United Church Homes, “church relations” was actually in my job title. And so, I hit the road connecting with colleagues who were near to or whose congregations had relationships with our health and retirement communities. It was in those first months as I brought my 25 years of parish ministry with me into this world of older adults and UCH, along with conversations with colleagues, when all kinds of “light bulbs” were illuminating my view of the church in an aging world.
As I became acquainted with the research and best practices that were happening in the world of gerontology and healthcare, I also was paying more attention to how the church talked about the same demographic of people. I had the privilege of participating with the Board of Directors, staff and residents of UCH in the writing of a new statement of vision, mission and values and became more and more aware of the realities of ageism and the need to change our thinking about aging in the larger society. Slowly, I became aware that although the larger church was not talking about aging and the church in the same way that I was, there were at least some others who were suggesting similar scenarios.
Age-Friendly Congregations is a starting point. It gives a wide picture of the aging world in which we live and work. There are resources suggested for further reading. It includes some Bible study centered around issues of aging. Again, these are all starting points.
Moving from the larger picture, there is a section to help you assess the details of your own location. What are the realities of those who are aging in your congregation and community? And finally, a suggested process for a congregation to covenant together to be an age-friendly congregation that would help to frame a church’s commitment to and understanding of the aging process from birth to death. This helps a congregation get to the local action level of understanding the implications for ministry, outreach and evangelism.
Meanwhile, back at UCH and the establishment of the Ruth Frost Parker Center for Abundant Aging, we are working on additional resources for clergy and local congregations. Our annual Symposium is an interdisciplinary event encompassing fields of study and practice that include the body, mind and spirit. A new website dedicated to the work of the RFPCAA was launched in October in conjunction with the Symposium.
There are additional projects in the planning stages, so stay tuned for upcoming retreats and events to help transform and resource your congregations. Come and join the conversation as we age together and share alternative narratives about what it means to grow older together in communities of faith.