Why the church needs to be doing more in helping the elderly

This is a guest post written by Holly Whitman. Holly is a freelance writer and journalist, originally from the UK but now based in Washington DC. You can find her on Twitter at @hollykwhitman and more of her writing on her blog, Only Slightly BiasedTo submit a guest post, email ourthoughts@gmail.com.

Kids are the future.

This is the sentiment of many education programs in North America. As this is rightfully true for education, it also tends to be true within churches. Youth groups are among the most popular parts of the foundation of the church, with the hope that many will stay or return after college to evolve into the adult congregation and leaders of the future.

With a significant amount of time and money being funneled into these youth groups, it seems that another is being left out. The elderly population of churches doesn’t get nearly as much attention from the church as the youth. If you log onto any church’s website, you’ll probably find a section dedicated to events and activities involving their youth group. You’d be hard pressed to find any activities involving the seniors.

This needs to change.

Give them a sense of community

One of the focuses the church, as a whole, can hone in on is giving the elderly a safe haven. The church is already known as a safe environment where people can talk out their problems. If people who are elderly understand they can go there anytime, they may be more likely to visit.

Even if it’s just for a friendly chat, the church can advertise free group meetings for the elderly. These meetings could simply consist of seniors meeting and talking about their problems and experiences. Not only does this help people who are elderly express their feelings, but it also gives them a sense of community and attention in their lives.

Members of the church can also visit with elderly congregants if they live in a nursing home and are unable to find transportation or are too frail to leave their facility. This, too, can help build their sense of community, as they can keep in touch and socialize with other church members. People visiting a nursing home should keep in mind that 50 to 70% of nursing home residents have dementia, so they should consider how best to interact with them. Providing this type of supportive community is one of the best ways to reach out to these individuals, in whatever way is best and most suitable for them.

Give them a gift

Churches have an obligation to create a safe and positive environment for the older generations. Besides creating a group atmosphere for the elderly to share their experiences, it would do the church wonders if they not offered free food and drink as a thank you.

This may sound like an odd idea, but it makes sense the more you think about it. With all the respect the older generations deserve, it’s only fitting they get a free doughnut or coffee. Perhaps anyone over the age of 65 could stop into their local church on a specific day of the week and pick up a complimentary snack. It’s less about the actual food and more about the giving of a gift to a generation who has worked so hard to pave the way for the younger generations. Rather than unintentionally ignoring them in favor of youth, churches must actively play a role in building relationships with seniors in their communities by making them feel valued, as Christ instructed us to serve and love everyone.

Give them opportunities to serve

The church must move away from the idea that the elderly in their congregation are reluctant to change and thus a burden in pushing the church forward in new ways to reach the lost. In many instances, this is not the case.

Talk about the vision for the church with seniors and involve them in projects that best suit their spiritual gifts. Help those who are interested in becoming a more active part of the church, whether that be in greeting guests on Sunday mornings or passing out bulletins during the service. Purpose and engagement are crucial to building this section of the congregation.

The church has a responsibility to society. Caring for, respecting and building up our elders is one of these responsibilities.

Under assignment from the stake

When I was called as elders quorum president nine years ago, I was dumfounded.

I had been a counsellor for a year, so I was familiar with how things worked, but it’s one thing to take care of delegated task; it’s quite another to hold keys that oversee the use of the Melchizedek Priesthood in an entire quorum. To top it off, I was the youngest person in the quorum. It hadn’t even been two years since I had returned home from my mission.

At the time, the bishop was concerned that too many members were coming to him with problems that could have been dealt with by the member’s home teachers or priesthood leaders. Along with the high priests group leader, it was up to me to convince the older members of my quorum to come to me for spiritual guidance and welfare needs.

It was a daunting task, but one I think my counsellors and I were able to accomplish. Through ministry visits, monthly home teaching interviews, and Sunday instruction, we were able to build a rapport and relationship with the brethren than we had previously.

I never gave anywhere near the number of blessings during the two years on my mission as I did the two years as elders quorum president. It was a very spiritual experience.

One experience sticks out though that never spiritually uplifted me. In fact, it left a bad taste in my mouth.

There was a member of my quorum who was not working outside of the home. His wife was. In fact, this brother—who was actually a friend of ours—was waiting for a job to fall in his lap, and his wife was taking up the slack in the meantime. The stake president assigned me to discuss this matter with the brother and convince him that providing for his family was his responsibility.

I took my first counsellor and we visited the family. We chatted a little while about this and that and the entire time I was dreading bringing this matter up. But bring it up I did, eventually. I told him that he needs to get a job and support his family.

They were polite, and he said things like “I have a few resumes out there”. Then we parted.

That was the last they ever spoke to me. They even avoided me at church, and he used his position in the stake to avoid attending our ward. Our friendship had shattered.

He never did get a job until one fell in his lap about a year or so later.

What good came out of it?