Congregations usually do a good job of acknowledging certain times in the lives of their members: birth, graduations, marriage, etc. But what about those not so traditional times: buying/moving into first home, retiring, moving out of a long-time home into assisted living, losing a child or spouse to death, becoming an empty-nester, getting a divorce, having a grandchild, becoming unemployed, or losing independence. The possibilities are limitless.
Such occasions, happy or sad, are milestones in our lives. These milestones cause a shift in our outlook and very likely in our spiritual needs. What can and should the church do to minister to people during these varied times of life?
Be aware of and acknowledge those things that are taking place in the lives of your church members. Many times changes bring unexpected struggles, whether it’s too much togetherness when spouses retire or a single parent’s need for time away from a child or a sense of lost purpose when children have moved away. Look for ways of pairing the interests and abilities with the needs.
There are limitless possibilities of ways your congregation can minister to the physical and emotional needs of people who are experiencing milestone changes. Perhaps some members would commit to calling the man whose wife recently died; before the woman moves into assisted living the pastor (or others) could walk with her through the rooms of her home, listening as she recalls memories and offering a prayer of thanks for her home; organize a group of volunteers who will visit with the chronically ill person while the caregiver takes a break; intentionally include those who are divorced, single, or empty-nesters in church activities; invite people to share a meal with you; have a “grandparent shower” so that they will have some of the basics when the grandchild visits (toys, books, blanket, wipes, etc.); arrange transportation for those who are no longer able to drive; suggest the retirees in the congregation take on special projects in the church or community; or plan a variety of activities so that those whose finances are limited can participate without it impacting their budget. As you look at the opportunities, consider the needs and abilities in your congregation or community.
Since a person’s spiritual needs change along with the occurrence of some of these milestones, it also important that the church be prepared to address those issues. Maybe a group in your church would benefit from a Bible study that focuses on older adults or a grief support group.
By reaching out to your members in these ways, you may also minister to others in your community who are experiencing similar times in their lives. What milestones are members of your congregation experiencing?
Changes: Prayers and Services Honoring Rites of Passage, by Church Publishing. These long-awaited rites have been under discussion by the church for more than six years. Included are public rites, together with prayers for individual and family use, for all of the major stages of human development, from early childhood to retirement. In addition, a new collection of prayers and a simple rite for remembering the departed provide an important pastoral resource for human grieving in the weeks and months following the death of a loved one. Church Publishing, $10.82.
A Very Present Help: Psalm Studies for Older Adults, by Miriam Dunson. Having found a strong correlation between themes in the psalms and the personal and spiritual issues with which older adults deal every day, Miriam Dunson selects ten of the best-known psalms for in-depth studies exploring issues of particular concern to older people. She opens avenues for study and reflection by including in each chapter a discussion of the psalm’s background, its meaning, and how it relates to the lives of older persons. Geneva Press, $20.00.
The Contented Life: Spirituality and the Gift of Years, by Robert Atwell. As a new bishop, Robert Atwell responded to a direct challenge from older church members, who usually make up the biggest majority in any congregation. Why, they asked, was there always so much for the young; what was there for them? This book grew out of his response. SCM Press, $14.99.
Making Sense of God’s Will, by Adam Hamilton. The author brings fresh insight to the age-old question of how to understand the will of God. Rejecting simplistic answers and unexamined assumptions, Hamilton addresses how we can comprehend God’s plan for the world and ourselves. Abingdon Press, $11.99.
Prices subject to change.