I could be biased, but of all the groups of people to minister among, I think I’ve got the best one. Since 2019 it’s been my privilege to be the Ministry Team Leader for Senior Adults at Clevedon Baptist Church.
At CBC we call Seniors those who have had 70 or more birthdays. We have around 70 senior church members as well as many more connections with older people who have previously attended our midweek activities and church on Sundays.
2020 has been a challenging year for many of my cohort, but they have inspired me with their resilience, faithfulness, wisdom and encouragements.
In turn we’ve tried to help people feel connected as a church family and encouraged as children of God. Many have remained in touch via email and regularly take part in our Zoom meetings and homegroups as well as connecting with our streamed services on Sundays. But we also do a few different things now to help those without technology maintain a sense of belonging.
Having long since stopped printing News Bulletins and Prayer Diaries at CBC, I took the decision at the start of the first lockdown to reintroduce these and since Easter we now send out a reasonably chunky monthly envelope to our senior households. These have included all sorts of things in the past 8 months: quite a lot of chocolate, devotions and tracts, adult colouring, exercise sheets, quizzes and crosswords, pictures made by children in the church family, magnets and bookmarks and even a worship DVD of many of our church family singing through favourite old hymns.
The Prayer Diary comprises daily prayer points predominantly discerned and written by our seniors for the whole church to use.
Packs are hand delivered locally, often by some of our older people, with a socially distanced ‘how are you?’ at the front door and posted to those living in neighbouring towns. We’ve had a lot of good feedback from this initiative and it’s been wonderful to hear how people look forward to their monthly packs, even calling me up to let me know the latest chocolate offers. The saddest comment I’ve had a few times now though is, ‘it’s good to be remembered’ – as if we would ever forget you! But it shows that this sense of belonging is vital and so we’ve carried on, whether we’re in lockdown or not.
A daily joy for me now is sharing encouraging scriptures on our brand-new-since-lockdown private Seniors Facebook group. The group has over 40 members and it’s been brilliant to interact with people on a daily basis; sharing encouragements, prayers, songs, thoughts, photos of what we’re doing (or not doing), as well as jokes and funny videos.
Alongside these initiatives are many phone calls as well as weekly DVD mailouts of our services for those who aren’t online.
Reaching older people beyond the church membership has admittedly been more of a challenge. Many have previously poured into our coffee mornings and other weekly gatherings, but for most of these we don’t have any way of contacting them. That’s why I was so pleased when our welcome team at CBC took up the Linking lives Two’s Company model, so that those experiencing loneliness (at any age) could be connected with one of our lovely befrienders.
One thing which was a real delight in the summer was when our Luncheon Club team delivered freshly made boxed cream teas to all the members of the Luncheon Club on the day when they would normally have had their annual outing. Along with a letter from the team leaders and those all important socially distanced doorstep ‘hello’s’, this was definitely a highlight on the Seniors at CBC calendar this year and we’re already making plans to do a Christmas version of this with mince pies in December.
One of the chaps from the Luncheon Club has taken to occasionally calling me with prayer requests for his neighbours. He doesn’t have a faith yet, but he joyfully adds his Amen to my prayers before we come off the phone each time.
It reminds me that for many the journey of faith starts with friendship and belonging. That takes time and I’m concerned that some in our reach won’t have years and years to build up friendship and belonging with the church and so I don’t want to waste time waiting for ‘when this is over’. I’m looking for meaningful ways for those who don’t yet know Jesus to come a step closer to him and to explore this path of faith – pandemic or not.
This work has already begun through helping existing older disciples to continue to flourish in their faith and calling, and equipping them with materials and inspiration to share with their senior friends and neighbours.
And in the absence of our usual outreach ministries for seniors, myself and a fantastic team of mostly seniors are now making plans for some one-off events for older people in our community over the next few months, in between lockdowns! We’re calling them Good News – an opportunity to share the good things that are happening in the world, in our lives and in God’s promises.
Thinking through how to welcome people who are anxious about coming outside and anxious about stepping over the church threshold, into a socially distanced, seat allocated, face-mask wearing, no singing, no drinking or eating, 30-40 minute experience, that includes the good news of Jesus, that could all be cancelled at the last minute, is no small feat. But the response so far has been super positive, with available seats booking up before the real advertising was even launched.
Our approach as a ministry team has been to do what we can sustainably do for the longer term. Balancing inspiration with consistent delivery feels important to help establish reliable new routines and define expectations appropriately. Nobody wants a one hit wonder in times like these. Our older friends need to know that we’re in this together for the long term and that we’ll be with them each step of the way, however long it takes.
A few websites and resources I’ve found helpful: