How does a local United Church of Christ congregation answer the needs of older adults and live into the UCC’s Great Love of Neighbor? The UCC’s Council for Health and Human Service Ministries has an answer. Age-Friendly Congregations is a new curriculum that helps local churches developing meaningful programming for their members.

Age-Friendly Congregations … could not have come along at a better time. This resource introduces congregations to meaningful ways of ministering to the burgeoning older adult population in local churches,” says the Rev. John C. Dorhauer, UCC general minister and president.

The curriculum is the answer to requests for assistance in developing ministries for senior citizens that have been pouring into CHHSM.

“The sheer number of requests led CHHSM to develop this resource,” says Michael J. Readinger, president and CEO of CHHSM. “It will assist congregations in strengthening their commitment to serving older adults through guided, intentional study, conversation and reflection.”

Inherent in the resource is the fact that today’s older adults are vastly different than earlier generations. According to the Population Bulletin from the Population Reference Bureau, the number of people ages 65 and older will double from 46 million today to more than 98 million by 2060. Today’s older adults are healthier, live longer, and need continued purpose and meaning in their lives.

“Faith formation is a lifelong process,” says the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, co-editor of the resource and one of its authors. “This curriculum takes seriously the belief that persons of all ages and stages of life experience and crave spiritual, emotional and intellectual growth. Ministry to people of diverse ages requires an openness to new attitudes and insights about aging. This resource is an essential tool in that process.

Developing a Covenant

Age-Friendly Congregations includes chapters that set the context for church-wide conversations leading to the writing, adopting and sharing of an “Age-Friendly Covenant,” unique and applicable to each congregation.

“This volume offers perspectives, resources, and tools for positive aging. It invites congregations … to create ways to intentionally minister to the needs of all generations,” says Jan Aerie, who authored the chapter on creating an Age-Friendly covenant. “My hope is that UCC congregations will become Age-Friendly Congregations, known for their advocacy and recognition of the unique gifts of older adults.”

The resource offers a series of thoughtful Bible studies to provide a jumping off point for congregations. Author the Rev. Beth Long-Higgins uses chapters from Ephesians, Ruth, and Romans to introduce readers to the experience of aging in the 21st century. The intent, she says, is “to stimulate conversations in congregations about aging – both the challenges and opportunities that members face as they live longer, and the opportunities for ministry with those who are aging in the wider community.”

Equipping Congregations

Age-Friendly Congregations offers an assessment tool for congregations, and gives background on legal and caregiver issues important to churches in their ministry to and with older adults. It combines useful information on battling ageism with detailed information to teach and train congregations on the dimensions of aging and caring for older adults.

The resource also devotes time to a discussion and list of resources for developing Accessible to All (A2A) and Open and Affirming (ONA) covenants.

“One can’t discuss Age-Friendly covenants without talking at length about issues of aging from diverse perspectives, including intentionally pursuing A2A and ONA covenants,” says Readinger. “They are fundamental to a congregation’s commitment to becoming an Age-Friendly Congregation.”

Author RoMa Johnson perceives elder ministry as having social justice, pastoral care, and sacramental components. She envisions Age-Friendly Congregations as “a learning tool for congregations committed to intergenerational lifespan community through worship, advocacy and service.”

“With this resource, the Council for Health and Human Service Ministries offers a substantive leadership and programming guide to address ageism, and ministry with older adults,” she says.

Age-Friendly Congregations is available from UCC Resources. The cost is $6 for a digital download and $13 for a printed copy.