General CBF

Providing a new meaning to senior adult ministry

By Brittany Riddle

RiddleWhen I share with people that I work with senior adults in the church, I often get the same few responses:

  1. A part-doubtful, part-intrigued stare as they try to figure out how old I am
  2. A story about an older relative they visit in the nursing home
  3. A comment about how lucky I am to have a job that takes me on so many trips with senior adults every year

As a 20-something year old who spends much of my time in ministry traveling with and serving alongside senior adults and their families, these responses no longer surprise me. I figure that in a few more years I will have visited every historical and cultural site in the state of Virginia. I get to experience an annual trip to the Amish Cheese Shop and the Little Debbie Outlet (and the strategy that goes into getting the best deals on Little Debbie snacks). I get to see shows and musicals all across the state multiple times each year. I have learned all the best places to shop on the way to and from just about any destination in the state. I also get to laugh and share stories with some of the most energetic senior adults I know.

And though my ministry involves a lot of trip planning and logistics, which is what a lot of people associate most with senior adult ministry, that wouldn’t be the first thing I would tell someone who asks me what ministry with senior adults looks like.

First, I would tell you that I have the honor of walking alongside people through some of the most delicate life and death issues. I get to hold a lot of hands and give hugs to people in times of loneliness and grief. I get to learn life and spiritual lessons from those who have been faithfully following God for a lifetime. I get to be the presence of Christ in our community alongside those who have watched the town become what it is today and who are most acutely aware of the nearby needs, challenges, strengths and resources.

I have recently heard a few different people in both ministry and social work settings say that the senior adult population is the most under-served population in most communities. A senior adult recently lamented that churches often get so focused on attracting “young” families that senior adults sometimes feel left out (or left behind) of the very church they helped build, grow and sustain.

This has been my food for thought recently: “Vibrant” churches tend to be defined by their youthfulness and ability to attract young families. That’s important, but what if we saw every person who came through our doors–no matter their age–as a vibrant part of our community? How would this change our definition of a vibrant, growing, active church? How would this change the culture of our churches? As a 20-something year old minister, I may be an unlikely candidate to be so passionate about ministry with senior adults, but I have discovered that it is part of my calling to challenge and expand our perspectives on senior adult ministry in the church.

I am grateful for the senior adults in my church and community who allow me to live life and practice faith alongside them. I am grateful that the senior adults help keep me rooted in tradition while also having a willingness to give newer, creative spirituality a try when their young minister gets crazy ideas to do things like create a 400 square foot labyrinth or to create mosaics out of broken stained-glass pieces when talking about brokenness made whole in Christ. I’m grateful for senior adults who see it as part of their calling to pass their faith along to the generations below them. Without the passing down of our faith, the church would not exist.

With the aging of the Baby Boomers, the senior adult population is on the verge of exploding in numbers in our churches. Are we prepared for this surge? Are senior adults considered vibrant and vital in our churches? Are we prepared to care for their spiritual needs as well as their social needs? I pray that we will all consider how our churches can provide a new meaning to the senior adult years in ways that challenge all of us to be more faithful to each other and to God.

Brittany Riddle is minister to adults at Vinton Baptist Church in Vinton, Va.

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