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Committee works to celebrate, recognize older adult ministries

 


Committee works to celebrate, recognize older adult ministries

March 9, 2005   

By Kathy L. Gilbert*

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)—Society and the United Methodist Church are “graying,” and the church cannot afford to abandon or under serve older adults, according to an expert on aging and older adult ministries.

By 2020, the number of people in the United States over 50 will grow by 74 percent, while the number of people under 50 will grow by only 1 percent. In the United Methodist Church, about 62 percent of the members are 50 or older, said the Rev. Richard H. Gentzler Jr., director of the Center on Aging and Older Adult Ministries for the United Methodist Board of Discipleship.

Gentzler was addressing the denomination’s Committee on Older Adult Ministries at its first meeting for the 2005-2008 quadrennium in Nashville, March 5-7. The committee advocates for older adult concerns and supports ministries “by, with and for” older adults in the church and society.

The Rev. Hazel Bennett, elected as chairwoman of the committee, said the words “by, with and for” are important. “Older adults want to serve as well as be spiritually enriched,” she said. “We don’t want something prepared for us without our input. Older adults can serve as long as they live.”

Gentzler set the tone for the meeting with a presentation on the history and biblical foundation of the committee.

“At the time of Jesus Christ, the life expectancy was 22 years old,” Gentzler said. “In John Wesley’s time it was 35; 100 years ago, it was 47; and today in the U.S., it is 80. It won’t be long until it is 120 years old, which the Bible speaks of.”

“Ageism is happening in many congregations,” said Bishop Violet Fisher, New York West Area. “It is showing in the leadership of our churches. We forget the gifts seniors have to offer, one of which is seniors are financially supporting our churches.”

A church that recognizes every member of its family will not leave anyone out, said Marvin Cropsey, an editor at the United Methodist Publishing House and a consultant to the committee.

The committee will look at issues that are important to older adults and submit legislation for the 2008 General Conference. One issue it will discuss is mandatory retirement for pastors and bishops. A resolution to do away with mandatory retirement failed to pass at the 2004 General Conference.

“General Conference is a perpetrator of ageism,” said Bennett. “Many pastors can be effective beyond age 70. The committee will be working on some hard decisions.”

The committee has $80,000 to use for grants for older adult ministries. Guidelines for criteria, submission procedure and the application form were discussed. The grants will be given in 2006 and 2007.

The committee also voted to hold a convocation for annual conference councils on older adult ministries in 2007. At the committee’s March 2006 meeting, plans will be announced for the design of the convocation.

The 2004 General Conference approved legislation to encourage each annual conference to create a conference council on older adult ministries. Bennett said the committee would work to get councils formed in every annual conference.

In other action, the committee elected James F. Fox, Northeastern Jurisdictional representative, as vice chairman of the committee, and Cathy Rafferty, North Central Jurisdictional representative, as recording secretary. Bennett, chairwoman of the committee, is the Southeastern Jurisdictional representative.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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