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Use older members' 'untapped potential,' task team urges

Use older members' 'untapped potential,' task team urges

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Use older members' 'untapped potential,' task team urges 

Jan. 13, 2005    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0224}

An e-Review Feature
By Jenna De Marco**

LEESBURG  — The Rev. Lois Barnum hopes to change people's minds about older adult ministry.
As chairwoman for the Florida Conference's Older Adult Ministries Task Team, Barnum wants to lead the way in helping churches recognize the untapped potential of its oldest members.
"The greatest resource available to a church is in the older generations," she said.
Barnum said ministry with older adults has traditionally been ministry "to or for older adults," without expecting or asking much from the older adults themselves. She offers another possibility — that church leaders use the spiritual gifts and talents of older adults, as well as focus on their spiritual growth.
"The shift we want to really communicate to churches is that there is ministry to be done with older adults in terms of discipleship," Barnum said.
In short, the task team agreed its mission statement is for all God's people to be fully engaged as lifelong, vital disciples of Jesus Christ, Barnum said.
Barnum especially wants to reach the Baby Boomer generation, which has its oldest members approaching retirement age.
"They just come with great enthusiasm and give themselves to something that is meaningful, and they will not participate in parties and entertainment," Barnum said. "They will (however) sign up for outreach and ministry. We are encouraging churches to recognize that."
Carol Sue Hutchinson, director of Discipleship, Church and Society, and Spiritual Formation for the conference, selected Barnum to lead the team several years ago.
"It was her passion," Hutchinson said. "She was so aware of the different kinds of older adults and different ministries."
Barnum transferred to the Florida Conference about four years ago from Michigan, where she worked on new church development. Once in Florida, she was appointed to serve at New Covenant United Methodist Church, which was just establishing itself in the Villages area of Leesburg. The Villages is a planned and fast-growing retirement community. Barnum said the building rate is 400 new homes per month. Her congregation — itself just four and a half years old — moved into its first building in October.
"We added 500 (people) one Sunday," Barnum said of the tremendous growth. "It's been an interesting challenge."
The 14-member task team assembled shortly after Barnum returned from the National Symposium on Older Adult Ministry in the spring of 2003 in Nashville. She traveled there with Nancy Metz, her task team co-chair and a member of Coral Gables United Methodist Church. The symposium included two representatives of every annual conference. One of the logos presented at the national conference was a tree with long, lush branches. Above the tree, the logo said "Older Adult Ministry." Beneath the tree was the text: "God's Gift of Long Life. The United Methodist Church."

Since her return from the conference, Barnum said she's been working with the task team to get out the message about the shift in focus. The team is comprised of laity and clergy and meets quarterly.
In addition to its message about older adult ministry, the task team breaks new ground in the conference structure. Lynette Fields, who serves on staff at St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Orlando, is chairwoman of the Conference Council of Ministries (CCOM) for its final year. The CCOM will be dissolved as of annual conference 2005.

Fields said the Older Adult Ministries Task Team is an example of how committees will form to address problems on an as-needed basis from now on. She cites the team as an example of a group that saw a need and believed they should do something about it. In that sense, Fields said she considers the task team to be self-initiated.
"A group of older adults had a passion for ministry and an idea for ministry and came together for that idea," Fields said.
Fields said the conference should expect more of this type of response in the future as a new system without the CCOM is ironed out.
To help further its mission statement, the task team is sponsoring a conference Feb. 1-3 called "Tapestry: Tapping the Greatest Resource in Florida."
"We chose 'tapestry' because we recognize that there is great diversity even among the older adult population," Barnum said.
The conference will be at New Covenant United Methodist Church in Leesburg. The keynote speaker is the Rev. Dr. Richard Gentzler Jr., coordinator of older adult ministries for the General Board of Discipleship in Nashville. Bishop Timothy Whitaker also will be attending to deliver a theological challenge to the attendees.
The purpose of the conference is to foster the spiritual growth of older adult populations. The cost is $70 per person, which includes four meals. Barnum said blocks of hotel rooms are available, as are accommodations at the Life Enrichment Center.
More information about the conference is available on the Florida Conference Web site at or by calling New Covenant United Methodist Church at 352-750-4529.

This article relates to Discipleship.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a freelance writer based in Viera, Fla.