This year I added two certificates to my office.
One I worked on for two and a half years.
The other was a surprise.
The first was an official looking document announcing the completion of my Certificate in Older Adult Ministry co-sponsored by Presbyterian Older Adult Ministries Network (POAMN) and Columbia Theological Seminary.
It involved classes, homework, and the creation of an extensive final project and a review of all those learnings.
For me it included the creation of a monthly older adult newsletter delivered to thirteen Presbyterian related facilities for lower income older adults across the state of West Virginia. It was shared with the 127 congregations of the Presbytery of West Virginia and was set up as topic based electronic presentations that could be used for a class…
…or for one on one exploration.
For me, the most helpful discussion we had in class concerned how to define “Older Adult” and the stages of that part of our lives. From the first contemplation of retirement to the end of this life, there are shifts and turns and opening and closing doors that move us forward. Each one of us move at a different pace. In most cases numerical age becomes meaningless.
One person’s “75” may see them still at work while another’s “75” may see them in hospice.
So how then do we begin to speak of aging well, or acting one’s age as we become older?
Issues of mobility, alertness, ability to be independent, the level of interest in the world, or even the level of ability to engage in conversation, to interact socially, all have a part in the aging process. They’re signs that you’ve left one stage and moved to another.
Through my experience with the POAMN and CTS programs, I started to consider the wide range of needs surrounding maturing adults.
In short, it is complicated.
The classes, final project and evaluation process were important for the ministry I engage in as the Associate for Mission for the Presbytery of West Virginia.
A portion of my work is a call to develop and strengthen relationships with our older adult homes staff, build useful resources for them, their residents and support our congregations as they engage in ministry with older adults.
I mentioned earlier that I’d earned two certificates; the second one ended up proving the first.
It was completely unexpected but ended up impacting me more than I would have imagined.
Just before Christmas the residents of two of our older adult facilities gathered for a special meal together at First Presbyterian Church, Charleston, WV.
The staff of the homes had been working all week on decorations, presentations and making sure that each resident saw a picture of themselves projected on the wall during the event. The goal was to have fun, celebrate the year past and to make sure the residents knew they were valued.
I had offered assistance and ended up cutting out a grocery bag full of six pointed snowflakes, running errands and cheerleading for the staff but it wasn’t much more than lending an ear and offering prayers.
So on the night of the dinner, I enjoyed sitting in the back, watching the movement and conversations that took place. The night included pictures of the events from the current year, photos of residents, and some fun and serious awards and stories. At the very end, without warning, a slide flashed up on the screen declaring me the winner of the M&M award!
I received a large jar of M&M’s and certificate declaring me “Magnificent and Marvelous.”
I was surprised to say the least.
As laughter bubbled all around, I realized that I was being recognized because I was becoming a better resource to older adult ministry. I was becoming better at being responsive to the needs of the staff and the residents and I was actively applying the skills learned from the Older Adult Certificate program.
Through these experiences, I’ve had the chance to meet new friends, experience renewing conversations with old ones and start considering the wide range of needs surrounding maturing adults.
All of which I’m proud to have been apart.
Two certificates, one a long-term commitment to older adult ministry.
Barbara Chalfant serves as the Associate for Mission at the Presbytery of West Virginia. She works as an advocate, pastor and educator assisting and advocating for the mission needs of the congregations in the WV Presbytery, sharing the good news of our ministry together in WV and beyond, and is focused on the areas of Older Adult Ministry, Hunger Action and Social Justice.
To learn more on how you can get involved with Older Adult Ministry, click HERE.