They’re not your elders of yesteryear.
Today’s grandmas and grandpas live longer and, by and large, stay healthy and active longer than their forebears. They continue to have a deep spiritual faith, but their needs and interests have changed, says Rev. Gary Rideout of First UMC, Winter Park.
"We are going to have to change the way we do things if we want to reach this generation," he says.
That’s why his church has teamed up with the Florida Conference Beyond 50 Ministries Task Force to present an event designed to help both clergy and lay members minister to the growing over-50 population.
Titled “Great Expectations for Boomers & Beyond,” the conference Oct. 22-24 will feature keynote addresses from Missy Buchanan, adult advocate and author, and Marc Middleton, founder of the Growing Bolder Web-based media group. More than 30 workshops on topics ranging from financial matters to giving or receiving care to mentoring and sharing spiritual gifts are on tap at the Winter Park church. Click here for registration.
Rideout says the genesis of the conference came out of discussions he had with Martha Virginia Spivey, a Beyond 50 Ministry leader from neighboring Aloma UMC.
They talked about the diverse interests of the different generations of older adults: how people in their 50s and 60s have issues different from those in their 70s and 80s.
"We decided we should have a conference to address these issues and explore ways in which the church can be a place for older adults to serve and grow spiritually, to use the gifts and the talent that they have to be disciples," Rideout recalls.
Rideout hopes that seniors at the conference will share their insights and have their questions answered and that church leaders attending will take away new ideas and initiatives to help grow their older adult ministry.
United Methodist churches in Satellite Beach and Jacksonville and as far away as Virginia Beach, Virginia, were among the first to sign up for the upcoming conference.
Georgia Garrett, senior ministry director at Satellite Beach UMC for more than six years, says she looks forward to taking back new training methods related to senior health issues and leadership.
"There are many new programs out there designed to help us tune in to the needs specific to seniors, to better recognize signs of health problems and get them the help they need," says Garrett.
Based on a 2010 survey, the United Methodist General Council on Finance and Administration estimates nearly 60 percent of churchgoers in the denomination are 50 or older.
Garrett says working with seniors has been a life-changing learning experience.
"Seniors tell really great stories and always ask, ‘What can I do? How can I help?’
"They have taught me what it means to really pray -- to pray from the heart."
Reflecting population trends the world over, the age range of active senior group members at Satellite Beach has changed dramatically in recent years.
Social functions, like Satellite's popular "Young at Heart” luncheons, used to be attended by active retirees in their late 50s and 60s. Now the age range tends to be late 60s and older.
"Most of the younger seniors these days are still working. They send their parents to the luncheons," Garrett says.
Shannon Jennings, director of Christian Education and Senior Ministry at Ortega UMC, Jacksonville, says she plans to return from the Boomers & Beyond conference with fresh new plans for the future.
"Our focus will be on advanced memory care techniques, ideas on recreation programs and the expansion of caregiver groups for those seniors caring for their aging senior parents."
And that age is climbing, according to Jennings, who estimates the average age of Ortega's active seniors to be in the upper 70s.
“My mom just turned 70 and she's one of the young ones."
Jennings, who recently coordinated an overnight bus trip for seniors to Callaway Gardens in the Georgia foothills, says plans are in the works for a seniors’ pickleball league.
Other current regular programs at Ortega include weekly Bible study for retirees, "Seniors on a Mission,” monthly outings and the Senior Ladies Prayer Group.
"Just seeing them excited about things, to see them doing things they want to do, is great. They still have a lot of living left," Jennings says.
Janice Cagle, director of senior ministry at Virginia Beach UMC, will likely travel the farthest to attend the Winter Park conference.
She says she's most excited about hearing Missy Buchanan speak, and she's looking forward to the variety of workshop opportunities listed for the event.
"The topics match so beautifully with the major areas of senior ministry that we have identified as for our church family."
Virginia Beach UMC has a significant number of very active, fully engaged persons older than 80, as well as a large group of worshipers ages 55 to 80, Cagle says.
For her, developing relationships is the best part of working with seniors in her church.
"Without a doubt, it's the relationships: learning their stories and hearing them share about God's work in their lives."
Rideout emphasized the importance of making it clear to older adults that there is a need for their involvement in the life of the church.
"We need them in the body of Christ.”
-- Raymond Joseph is a freelance writer based in Bradenton.