Towards a Ministry for a Graying Church
Numerous research studies in recent years have focused on successful aging. These research projects have emphasized the importance of aging, spirituality and holistic wellness. These findings indicate that a healthy spiritual dimension in the life of the elder is an important factor in the successful aging and holistic healing process of 62-74% of elders.
In more than a quarter century of providing pastoral care to residents of long term care facilities, it is clear that spirituality and religion are important ingredients that can have a positive impact on the successful aging process of most elders. Is our Catholic Church Community actively involved in meaningful senior adult ministry? What is the meaning of life? What gives and enhances meaning to the lives of our elders? These are fundamental questions that will give focus to our ministry with our parish elders.
The Church of the New Millennium is a “graying Church.” If the Catholic Church of 2011 and beyond is to be a meaningful church to a major part of its members, it must look at issues that will impact those who will be age 65 and over! Assessing the holistic needs of our elders and becoming aware of available community resources to meet those needs are the first steps in ministering to the elder community. Where gaps in services exist, new ministries can be developed to serve our elder Church — Who will be our ministers?
Spirituality of our Senior Population
As we grow older the need to affirm life’s meaning continues. This affirmation is achieved through a strengthening of our relationship with God, others, self, and our environment. Through “life review,” the elder can discern the meaning if life. In one whose spirituality has been a positive influence in life, the result is a life of integrity, not despair.
Opportunities in our parishes that can provide for a deepening spiritual life for our elders are some of the following:
- Eucharistic and non-eucharistic liturgies geared to the older members of our parishes
- More frequent communal celebrations of the sacrament of anointing
- Where possible, use of old & new technology by the parish to enter the places where our elders live, e.g. apartment buildings, private homes, assisted living and long-term care facilities
- Audio/Video tapes of the parish liturgical servicefor use by our homebound
- A greater use of our lay ministers of Eucharist to take Communion to the homebound and visit
- Beginning a prayer ministry with the homebound being the “pray-ers” for intentions of fellow church members
Health Care Ministry
People who live longer will continue to deal with health issues, especially chronic but also sub-acute and acute.
Parish Wellness and/or Parish Nurse Programs have the potential to impact the health care of our elders. Many areas in the twenty counties serving the Diocese of Sacramento provide this service. Unfortunately, the Catholic Church is lagging behind in this area compared to our Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist brothers and sisters. By providing education, information and resources on a variety of health issues, to offering monthly blood pressure checks and providing follow-up care for a parishioner who has been released from the hospital, the Parish Wellness Team becomes an integral part of the healing ministry of Christ, adding to the quality of life of the elders of our Catholic Church. Areas of involvement could include:
- Education on various health issues
- Home health care for the homebound
- Hospice care for the dying
- Preventative health care measures (blood pressure checks, diabetes tests, flu shots, etc)
- Proper nutrition for people no longer able to prepare their own meals