(Above) This past summer, Mjr Shirley King (right) travelled to her home province of Newfoundland and Labrador where she shared many happy moments, like the one captured here, with her mother, Beryl Braye, 85, at Carmelite House, a long-term care facility in Grand Falls-Windsor, N.L.
Statistics Canada records that seniors in Canada are a rapidly growing segment of the population, and that they are living longer and healthier lives than previous generations. In 2014, more than six million Canadians were aged 65 or older, representing 15.6 percent of Canada’s population. By 2030, seniors will number more than 9.5 million and make up 23 percent of the Canadian population. Additionally, by 2036, the average life expectancy for women will rise to 86.2 years from the current 84.2 and to 82.9 years from the current 80 for men.
In my research for writing this article, I pulled faded papers from a filing cabinet in my office at divisional headquarters and realized we have had this statistical information sitting at our fingertips for years. I read statements such as “It is time for the church to wake up to the great ministry potential of seniors.” The next paragraph implied that the church’s outreach traditionally focused on children, youth and young adults, and that church leaders wrongly assumed seniors were already in church or that they had become hardened to the gospel. The conclusion was that most programs for seniors do not provide enough ways for them to be involved in the life of the church.
As we consider the growing number of older adults in our communities, we must seek ways to affirm love, justice and mercy in ministry opportunities for them. How do we ensure dignity and respect in the execution of our visions and plans for strategic and meaningful ministry expressions to, for, by and with seniors? How are we defining ministry to the older adult in our plans for innovative and intentional ministries in our corps and community outreach? Is what we are doing on the local level designed to embrace older adults in our ministry units?
A Good Work
Of course, we will want to affirm from the grandstands of our ministry units that a good work has already been done in kingdom building and in ministries that embrace the aging population. Beautiful stories of Christian caring and ministry impact are emerging from the heat of the pandemic that represent the best of the Army’s ministry “to” and “for” older adults. Seniors separated from family and friends were touched by phone calls, letters, cards, porch drop-offs of food parcels and personal gifts from community care ministries groups, corps officers and fellow Salvationists. Residents of the Army’s long-term care homes were ministered to by caring staff and volunteers. Guests of The Salvation Army Mountberry Adult Day Program in Hamilton, Ont., were able to stay connected and active via Zoom calls. Thanks to the staff’s innovation in program delivery, guests and their caregivers received much-needed contact and connection during the days of isolation and uncertainty.
But have you given much thought to the Army’s ministry “by” and “with” older adults? Perhaps I am intrigued and challenged about this as I realize I am in that growing number of people who are eligible for seniors’ discounts at the local pharmacy. How could this have happened? I am not ready for a rocking chair, and neither are many of my fellow boomers! Board games and bus trips just won’t cut it. This generation wants their life journey to continue to be intentional, innovative and targeted, and their retirement to be a time of reinventing, redefining, re-emerging, reinvesting and retooling.
A Natural Part of Living
As we continue in this new era, it is essential for us to remember to ask what the needs of this growing demographic are. Let’s not assume that we know the answer without having the conversation and connecting with the voices who have so much to offer. The older adult is looking for meaningful ministry opportunities where mentoring relationships are developed, program engagement is valued and leadership opportunities are accessible. The fields are white for the church to reach out with intentional ministry that embraces the gifts, skills and needs of the older adult in the congregation’s total mission. Ministry is not confined to the early or middle years of life. Ministry spans a whole lifetime, and this includes evangelizing, discipling, serving and giving hope to all generations.
We acknowledge that life is a gift from God and understand that aging is a natural part of living. It is inevitable that one day we will all be there. And as we are arriving, we will know that God’s love for all people is unconditional, that no one lies outside the magnitude of God’s love, and no one is forgotten. We must hold close to our heart that the Christian community, the object of God’s love embodied in Christ, includes the older generations and is the channel through which this love flows through to all human beings, young and old alike. Ministry is age inclusive! In this postpandemic world, I would like to think that we are being called to reimagine what ministry looks like to, for, by and with older adults in this tsunamic time of change, both demographically and missionally.
A Powerhouse of Warriors
I remember being at Jackson’s Point Conference Centre, Ont., with a group of older adults during an annual seniors’ retreat. The planning committee had meticulously and enthusiastically designed a retreat that was intentional and, yes, innovative! During the days together I was privileged to listen to conversations, share in the worship and Bible study sessions, experience the eagerness of our guests to participate in giving to missions, singing, praying and participating in the learning sessions. I was stirred and strengthened within my own spirit as I recognized that I was sitting with a powerhouse of warriors who collectively brought hundreds of years of experience, and I wondered how we could harness that power.
Older adults have much to teach us, not only about aging, but about life and faith. We are being called to break free from the paralyzing grip of stereotypical thinking of the aging community, to develop exciting, challenging, intentional and innovative ministry opportunities to, for, by and with seniors. With God’s help, the sky’s the limit!
Major Shirley King is the divisional adult ministries secretary in the Ontario Division.
What level of engagement opportunities exist in your corps, centre or community ministries for older adults?
- What preconceived thinking exists about the older adult population?
- How are you engaging, empowering and encouraging the older adult population in kingdom building?
- How are the spiritual and emotional needs of the older adults being met in your ministry?
- What gifts and graces are being used to develop intentional ministry to, for, by and with older adults?
- How are you responding to the inevitable tsunami of an aging landscape with innovative and intentional ministry?
- How can you tap into the growing resource of older adults to develop comprehensive, meaningful, age-specific ministries?
- What can be done on a local level to understand and prepare for this change in age demographics?
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