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September 3, 2016

My blog this week is for all churches everywhere, but especially for the larger churches where it is easy for people to fall through the cracks. What follows is a real dialogue where the names have been blanked out for the sake of anonymity.

From a pastor of a large church here in Lexington in response to my complaint that the elderly were not being well cared for there:

“If you will let me know those who’s needs are not being met I’m certain we can help them. But, I m a little perplexed how you turn one positive – growth and/or revival – as a negative because you feel we aren’t meeting other needs. I’m sure there are 100’s of needs we aren’t perfect at meeting – which is one of the reasons we partner and refer to dozens of other resources.”

My response to the pastor:

“I did not mean to insinuate that growth and revival are negatives. I meant to convey that growth and revival without taking care of the elderly who are dealing with or who will be dealing with sickness and death is WRONG. Growth and revival and taking care of the elderly should be happening at the same time, not one being focused on at the expense of another.

As for those who have needs that aren’t being met, let me tell you a short true story. Last winter, when we had the first big snow storm, I called an 86 year old widow to check on her. She said I was one of two people (the other being another elderly friend who could not have helped her if she needed help) who called her during the entire storm while she was home bound for several days. The same thing happened during the second snow storm. This lady drives in good weather. Her only child lives far away. This lady is a member of _________, volunteers her heart out, and has a deacon, but he has never visited her and never calls her.

There are many such people at __________. They worship regularly, they volunteer a lot, but when they stop coming to church, no one helps them. Out of sight, out of mind. Oh, someone may visit them a few times in the hospital or in the nursing home, but no one HELPS them. How do they get from being active at church to the nursing home (and must they go to a nursing home?—is there a more loving way to care for them)? It is not a pretty process and people suffer through it. Rather, fellow believers helping the elderly backed by knowledgeable staff and a program designed for helping the elderly navigate the process of sickness, disability, and death should be in place.

First, a program for tracking who is attending regularly and who is missing needs to happen. I have seen older folks stop coming to church and have wondered what has happened to them only to find out that they have suffered and died without any help from the church.

I greet outside of the Sunday School class led by _________, and it is full of elderly ladies. I see them declining year by year, month by month. Is anyone helping ________ mow her yard? Is anyone helping ________ with transportation? Is anyone helping the sons of another woman who clearly has dementia to understand the processes of dementia and how to best plan for their mother’s care? Is anyone helping _______ besides her niece who lives far away? ________lives in a beautiful house with her beloved dog now, but who knows how much longer she will be able to be independent. Will she fall and suffer, lying on her kitchen floor until she regains consciousness and crawls in excruciating pain to the phone? Does anyone check on her daily to make sure she is alright? I don’t know anything about ________, the teacher, but is anyone helping HER? The last time I saw her she had developed a limp and looked as if she could barely walk.

There are too many others to list here. They don’t want to be considered charity cases and try to do their best to make it on their own. Some are men. They all need a friend backed by a program that is integral to _________. There is no loving way of taking care of the elderly in our church by referring the elderly to another program in the community.

Open your eyes and you will see.”

I think the problem of pastors not taking care of the elderly in large churches may stem from the fact that they do not understand the aging process themselves and are ignorant of the changes that occur through aging and the needs that develop because of aging. They should have to take a mandatory course on aging when they are working on their divinity degree: Aging Church Members 101

May God bless you and other people who help the elderly feel loved and cared for.

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