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Methodists join NGOs in Madrid to discuss aging

3/28/2002 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York

By United Methodist News Service

United Methodists will play an active role in the nongovernmental forum that meets in conjunction with the U.N.'s Second World Assembly on Ageing in Madrid, Spain.

The assembly, meeting April 8-12, will update the U.N.'s Vienna Plan, also called the 1982 International Plan on Ageing, and determine a new long-term strategy on aging. Representatives of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) will have their own meeting on those issues from April 5-9.

People over 60 will account for one-third of the population in richer countries and one-fifth of the population in poorer countries by 2050, according to United Nations statistics.

Susanne Paul, a United Methodist and founder of Global Action on Aging, believes that a major issue at the world assembly will be whether North American and European representatives will be able to bridge the gulf between their countries and developing nations to see the difficult challenges those countries face "in making their policies and their programs welcoming to old people."

On the other hand, she noted, "The NGOs are talking about things that the governments are not. They're talking about international cooperation, they're talking about more global programs that will assist people everywhere."

Global Action on Aging has organized 41 people to attend the event and is conducting two workshops, one on the social initiatives of aging organizations in developing countries and one on finding new approaches to assist older people living in poverty.

Also providing leadership for two NGO workshops is the Rev. Rick Gentzler, an executive with the United Methodist Board of Discipleship.

United Methodists, he said, need to share their belief that all people, including older adults, are called to be disciples of God. "The Bible does not say that at a certain age God takes away God's blessing," he pointed out. "Rather, whether we are 65 or 105, God continues to bless us and to use us in God's service."

In addition to spiritual growth, the church needs to address other issues related to the well-being of older adults around the world, he said, such as guaranteeing economic, social and cultural rights, eradicating the problem of poverty and providing the opportunity for older adults to impact the lives of future generations.

One of his workshops, titled "The Church's Ministry with Older Adults," is designed to help leaders identify and develop ways to empower, equip and support older adults for ministry in their communities. He will use his own book, Designing an Older Adult Ministries, as a resource.

"Although the church cannot ignore its great responsibility in helping meet the needs of the frail or at-risk elderly, neither can it ignore the involvement of healthy, active older adults in ministry," Gentzler told United Methodist News Service. "It is imperative that the church take seriously its responsibility for an intentional ministry by, with and for older adults."

He is participating in a second workshop on "Spirituality and Aging," organized by the Rev. Jackson Day, an executive with the United Methodist Board of Church and Society.

"Ideally, the church attends these events because it can make a unique witness to the faith-based reasons, implications and undergirding for the actions which need to be taken," Day said.

Day is using the workshop he designed to build upon the references he found to spirituality and religious institutions in the proposed plan of action. Gentzler will show how spirituality affects aging and undergirds social action for older people; Day will consider the unique roles that religious institutions can play in implementing the plan of action; and Lavada Redding, a director of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, will serve as moderator and lead a discussion of recommendations for the leadership of the NGO forum and world assembly.

Other United Methodists attending the NGO Forum on Ageing include Noemi Fuentes, and Carolyn Njuki, staff; Julie Taylor, Women's Division staff; Betty Letzig, retired staff; and Emmy Lou John, director, all of the Board of Global Ministries. Representing the World Federation of Methodist Women will be Cynthia Pozzo of Zimbabwe, Chita Millan of the Philippines, the Rev. Judith Parkes of New Zealand and Shunila Ruth of Pakistan.

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