Aging Well: If church doesn’t value frail seniors, who will?

Missy Buchanan

Missy Buchanan

Each week I visit older adult friends in three different senior care communities. Not long ago when I went to visit one of my friends, I saw a frail woman sitting in a wheelchair, looking out the window at the parking lot. She looked dressed for a special occasion with white curls framing her thin face and pink lipstick that perfectly matched her blouse.

As I paused to wish her a good morning, the older woman looked up at me, and then beamed. “I’m waiting for my church to come. They come every Tuesday at 10, like clockwork. It is my favorite day of the week.”

Her comments sparked my curiosity. I knelt down beside her and quickly learned that she belongs to a local Baptist church. The church has several visitation teams, and the pastors rotate to a different team each week so they can each stay in touch with the older members.

The woman also talked about her peers at the nursing center, especially those whose church families rarely come to visit. “It makes me sad that old people like me are made to feel that they’ve been put out to pasture,” she said.

The woman spoke with great pride about her own church family. As I watched her pale gray eyes dance with excitement, I couldn’t help but be impressed by her church’s faithfulness. About that time she looked up to see familiar faces filing through the door. She squealed with delight and clapped her hands. I looked at the clock on the wall and smiled. Straight-up 10 o’clock.

The group of six church members and a pastor gathered around their friend. Just watching the hugs and hearing their laughter warmed my heart. It also made me think about something an older man once told me. His greatest fear about aging was of being forgotten.

Before I could slip away, the older woman insisted that I walk alongside them as they made their way to the library where they would continue visiting in private. I noticed that one lay person held a single orange Gerber daisy in a miniature bottle. Another told me that she had a DVD of Sunday’s worship service to give the older woman. When I left to go down the hall to visit my friend, the visitation team was about to sing a few hymns accompanied by a guitarist in the group.

For days after, I replayed the scene in my mind. It wasn’t hard to understand why Tuesdays were the older woman’s favorite day of the week. I thought about her church, so attentive to the homebound and to those in care centers. But I also thought about those whom the church visits sporadically or not at all. It’s not surprising that they feel alienated and forgotten.

The event reminded me of the importance of regular visits. Ministering to and with those living alone at home or in care centers is more than sending an occasional greeting card or the weekly worship bulletin. Though these are important ministry efforts, the church can and should do better. Older adults in physical decline need life-giving relationships with compassionate people who are willing to consistently invest their time.

The biblical idea of community is based on love for one another. Isn’t it time we quit making excuses for pushing frail elderly to the fringes of society? I invite you to ask the hard question. Can the frail elderly count on you to make their favorite day of the week?

 

Ms. Buchanan, a member of FUMC Rockwall, Texas, is the author of several books, including Aging Faithfully: 28 Days of Prayer (Upper Room Books). Reach her at: missy@missybuchanan.com

 

Missy Buchanan, UMR Columnist

Missy Buchanan is a sought-after speaker on topics of older adult ministry and spiritual creativity, she brings passion and humor to many events for churches, organizations, and women’s groups. She has appeared on Good Morning America with co-host Robin Roberts and is the author of books including Living with Purpose in a Worn-Out Body: Spiritual Encouragement for Older Adults, Talking with God in Old Age: Meditations and Psalms, and Don’t Write My Obituary Just Yet: Inspiring Faith Stories for Older Adults. She has written for many publications including Presbyterians Today, Mature Years, Christian Association Serving Adults Ministries, Entrepreneur, and The Dallas Morning News.

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