Normally I don’t suggest separating out cohorts—age, gender, interest—in a congregation. My default philosophy runs in the opposite direction: We learn, grow, prosper and bless each other when all of us are joined together in our work as God’s people. Recently, though, I had the experience of being with a large, day-long gathering of older adults, all assembled in one place for mutual benefit and enjoyment.
What I noticed about this age-specific gathering was enjoyable for me, and I think it’s worth sharing with you. Some of what I observed might be helpful for you, as you consider the possible benefits of *gathering groups of older adults all together in one place. Consider these reflections:
• Twinkly eyes and smile wrinkles abounded. It seemed obvious that humor of all kinds was alive and well amongst these folks.
• The event moved through its schedule with ease, a deliberate slowness that enabled us to settle on a comfortable pace of discovery, sharing and admiration.
• The feeling of equanimity—we’re deserving of appreciation, each one of us—was prevalent. No need for putting-on-airs!
• In some cases, it took some nudging to bring out the wealth of participants’ experience, education or lifework that could be the stuff of fascinating stories.
• Humility was writ large!
• In conversations and learning opportunities, participants asked insightful questions, full of honesty and curiosity.
• Not much whining or moaning about being old was evident. These folks seemed to understand that “older adult” implies a positive and appreciative attitude towards life.
• There were some sadness about what younger generations might be facing now or in the future, matters that seem difficult to discern or deal with. (For example, some elders worried about how their grandchildren will have to deal with the effects of global warming.)
• Political and ideological differences were not front-and-center. Being spiritually focused and God-directed brought us towards our shared similarities.
• The camaraderie of the group was refreshing. We realized how our individual circumstances are part of a larger whole—that none of us needs to be alone.
• Comfort and support percolated through the event—participants and leaders alike saw this as an opportunity minister to others as well as to be cared for.
• Participants caught the glimmer of a perhaps-new idea: Shaping the identity of congregations around the capabilities and assets of older adults.
• Participants did more than sit around and talk. Workshops on bee-keeping, archery, brewing beer, card-making, cooking and constructing pet toys added action and new horizons for older-adult congregations and lifestyles.
Coming together with other oldsters was an uplifting experience. Creative and spiritual at the same moment. Strength and wisdom in our numbers. Exemplary thoughts that motivated us to carry forward the experience, and to embed it into our self-concepts.
During the time we were together, this was a congregation! We started to imagine what would happen if our home churches caught the vision of “elder ministry” growing beyond simple caregiving or fun-providing. The energy was palpable, and the emotions similar: “Hey, could we do this again some time?”
From where I sit, not a bad idea….
(*For information about this event, contact Jeff Bluhm, Director, Lutherdale Camp, Elkhorn, WI, — firstname.lastname@example.org – and ask him about Lutherdale’s entire 50Forward program.)