Wise elder advice

W

That’s the invitation seen on a booth at a recent Senior Center event in Amherst, MA. Located at the Amherst College library, this interactive display was sponsored by the Center and the college’s chapter of Rotaract, the young adult branch of the Rotary Club. The intent was simple: To invite conversations between Amherst students and senior citizens in town. The signs on the booth advertised Opinions (5 cents); a Thought for the Day (10 cents) and Flawless Advice (1 dollar). (For the record, no cash exchanged hands, and free baked goods added to the anticipation of a good time.)

The results were encouraging. The seniors, chosen for their relational skills, and Amherst students reported helpful, open conversations that benefitted both age groups. The content of the advice included the elders’ perspective on their big-picture experiences—career choice, stress reduction, love and marriage. Resilience, patience, empathy—individual elements of wisdom—were also considered. Shared with crazy-busy students, those insights were welcome and refreshing.

Originating in the college students’ previous visits at the Senior Center—to bridge the gap between students and townspeople—this booth seems like a good example of a creative way in which older adults and younger age groups can find cross-generational understanding and respect.

Most all of us are in favor of intergenerational sharing. That seems to be true across society. The rub? Finding intriguing, approachable means for bringing generations together so that the admiration, understanding and wisdom are shared across age groupings.

What immediately comes to mind is churches! Churches could fill that function! Most congregations already provide some opportunities for older and younger folks to begin to know each other. This suggests a further question: How might those relationships continue deeper, past polite conversations or simple notions of helpfulness?

The college students and Amherst Senior Center stepped out of their comfort zones. That seems to be one clue for making these interactions more than a one-off experience. It seems logical that our churches have many beyond-comfort zones in which we can approach generational sharing. Churches have built-in advantages for this kind of mutual discovery. The most obvious: We worship together once a week, encountering God’s love and God’s challenges. We’re already comprised of families that share similar values and hopes—who value their history enough to want to pass it on. We already engage creative people of all ages in tasks, programs or ministries. Unless our congregations have siphoned off members into tightly defined age-level ministries, strong reasons remain for older members and younger members to interact in congregational and personal relationships.

A Wise Elder Advice booth could easily fit into most churches’ narthexes or fellowship halls. The same could be true of other interaction-rich events that might gather stories, histories, interests, skills or challenges. Other already existing conversational prompts—about shared travel, parenting, home maintenance, career guidance, tools and machinery expertise—are all rich with interactive possibilities, and all within the identity of most congregations.

What comes to mind in your setting? Are there events, locations or people that could carry forward the general idea of intergenerational sharing? What younger or older member(s) could take this concept and run with it? However you answer these questions, “wise elder advice” might just be one of those full-of-years experiences that breathes fresh energy into your congregation.

An invitation worthy of a sign anywhere you place it….

For further details about the Amherst College experience, see https://directory.amherst.edu/news/news_releases/2020/1-2020/the-other-kind-of-amherst-senior

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Bob Sitze

BOB SITZE has filled the many years of his lifework in diverse settings around the United States. His calling has included careers as a teacher/principal, church musician, writer/author, denominational executive staff member and meat worker. Bob lives in Wheaton, IL.

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Avatar By Bob Sitze
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Bob Sitze

BOB SITZE has filled the many years of his lifework in diverse settings around the United States. His calling has included careers as a teacher/principal, church musician, writer/author, denominational executive staff member and meat worker. Bob lives in Wheaton, IL.

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