Older Adult Ministry and Me
“I don’t want to do anything that involves children.”
I said those words to my field education director at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in 2006.
It’s not that I don’t love kids, but I had just finished teaching middle school summer school just a couple of weeks before I started seminary.
I was done.
Our field education director smiled and said, “What about Presbyterian Homes and Services of Louisville.”
I agreed and was forever changed.
At Presbyterian Homes, I sat with people who could no longer speak and held their hands.
I sat in ER rooms with residents seeking to be a non-anxious presence as we waited for family to come.
I went back in time with residents whose memories of yesteryear became their present reality.
I heard people, who could not remember their family, sing every verse of every hymn during worship.
I learned to play Phase 10 and tried aspic for the first time.
I witnessed my first death, which I realized was nothing more than a birth to the resurrection.
I heard stories about how people met their spouses, their experiences in war and hardship, and their worries about their children.
I sat and listened as beloved residents pondered their purpose and continued existence in this world wondering why God wouldn’t take them home.
That year I fell in love with older adult ministry.
It resonated with my soul.
I still felt called to congregational ministry, but I knew that older adult ministry would always be a large part of my sense of call.
Since my time at Presbyterian Homes and Services, I have served four churches (two were yoked), and out of my four, three were predominately older adult.
In my congregational ministry I sat with families at death beds.
I have heard stories of the horrors of war—WW2 and Korea.
I have pondered the purpose of life in God’s plan with centenarians.
So often our churches and ministries are geared toward youth, young adults, and young families.
Many ministers, Sessions, and the congregation believe that the only way to grow a church is to make it younger; in their minds, older adult congregations are dead congregations.
It is my goal in life to prove that theory wrong.
Older adult ministry offers so much to our communities.
Our spiritual journeys don’t end when we get social security.
Our whole lives are a journey from God and to God.
This is why I love Older Adult Ministry.
There’s much that can be learned from those “further along the path of discipleship” (as we say at FPC Cleveland, GA), and there is still so much to be learned.
A church that can embrace ministry to its older adults and their caregivers is a congregation that lives what James calls “pure religion”: care for the orphans and widows in their distress (James 1:27a, NIV).
Mary, Gladys, Casey, Jimmy, Lee, Harold, Marcia, Donna, Evelyn…all of these people—these older adults that I had the privilege of ministering to at Presbyterian Homes and in my congregational ministry—have left an imprint on me forever.
Though they have passed, what I learned from them continues. I will be forever grateful that I told my field education director that I didn’t want to do anything involving children.
In my decision to pursue older adult ministry, I discovered my passion. This led me to pursue certification in Older Adult Ministry through Columbia’s Older Adult Ministry Certification program.
Another decision I’m yet grateful for.
Rev. Burnetta Armour
First Presbyterian Church, Cleveland, GA