TRANSITIONING TEAMS IN CONGREGATIONS – THE TIME HAS COME!
Psalm 71 says it so well, “….Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone……..Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come.”
It is time to take seriously the gift of aging in our homes, churches, and communities. It is time to be specific and intentional about how we live out our Baptismal Promise with the younger and the older around us.
We choose sponsors for the newly baptized. We have mentors for our confirmation classes. We pledge at various “stages” on our faith journey to pray for, support, encourage , and “share the faith” with others….but where are we as older adults go through their transition times of losing a partner, moving to a new facility, no longer able to drive, and dealing with other life changes?
How can our congregations better see, not only the needs of older people, but also their gifts and experiences which they are so willing to share and celebrate, if only asked to do so?
Our culture, as well as our congregations, continue to see aging, not as a blessing to celebrate but rather as a burden to endure! Our congregations continue to focus on “growing the church” with children and families and millennials, which is all well and good, but not at the expense of the fastest growing population – people 65 and older. Just imagine: 10,000 people are turning 65 TODAY…talk about a mission field! These people are NOT burdens to bear but rather blessings to continue to serve and to celebrate the faith, with people of all ages!
What would happen if congregations would finally take seriously the gift of aging? What would happen if “aging specialists” were trained to serve and empower older adults in their baptism walk through their congregations? What would happen if “transition teams”, comprised of the younger and the older, would be formed to be intentional about meeting the needs and releasing the gifts of their older adult members? What would happen if our worship services would continue to involve “sponsors” and “encourAGERS”, not only at baptism and confirmation, but also for people as they reached the age of 65…and beyond? What a great way to celebrate age as a gift from the Lord, begun at Baptism, and to continue to intentionally proclaim the promise of the Risen Lord through all of life!
What would this “transition team” do? For starters, it would increase the awareness of both the younger and the older that aging is a gift and that people of all ages have needs as well as gifts to share. This team would focus on special opportunities to speak and live words of comfort and hope as older adults deal with illness, separation, meaninglessness, and loneliness, to name a few areas of need. This team would engage the older in meaningful ministries to others as well, through community events, hospital visits, volunteer opportunities, and time to put the younger and the older in “ministry range” of each other! How fun it would be if parish teams would produce videos for children to listen to the “old folks” tell stories of their pasts? Can you imagine all of the wonderful stories in the minds of older adults, who are willing to “toot and tell”, about their past …but no one is there to listen to them? These teams would “be there” as a voice, an ear, a hand, a smile, to enable people of all ages to age gracefully, especially as they deal with life’s changes.
These “transition teams” would bring added energy and gifts to people of all ages! It would model for the younger that aging is not something to deny and be fearful of. It would model for the older that they are not being forgotten in their aging years. (Read Psalm 71 again!) It would break down the current stereotypes we have of what it means to grow older, and the Church of Christ would prosper as generation upon generation would “declare the power of the Lord” to one another! What great AH-HA Moments these would be!
Sign me up! As a matter of fact, we all are already signed up for this transitioning task ……because of our Baptism!
Dr. Rich Bimler (with great gratitude to my mentor, Dr. Dick Engebrecht)
Ambassador of Health, Hope, and Aging (AH-HA!)