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Presbyterians reach out, find ways to minister to older adults

The COVID-19 pandemic spurs pastors, church educators into innovative ministry

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — Known for their creativity and their ability to improvise, pastors and church educators are passing along what they’re learning about how to reach and minister to the most senior members of PC(USA) congregations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Their approaches were on display last week during a webinar put on by the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators.

At St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Tucker, Georgia, the home church for the president-elect of the Presbyterians Older Adult Ministries Network, Pat Baker, when it comes to worship materials, “we are mailing everything,” especially to people who have limited access to technology, she said. “But everybody has a telephone, and those who can do Zoom calls.”

Pat Baker

The church tries to engage members of all ages throughout the week, with Musical Mondays, with a different piece of music highlighted each week; Tickle Tuesdays, when members of all ages are encouraged to tell jokes to one another; Big Table Wednesdays, which involves texting and talking with fellow church members during mealtimes; Newsletter Thursdays, the day of the weekly in-house publication; and Church at Prayer Fridays, during which members pray for one another via telephone or Zoom.

“A lot of our older adults are participating,” Baker said. “They just want somebody to acknowledge that they are still there: just a phone call to say, ‘I am thinking about you, I hope you’re OK — is there anything you need?’ It’s not a lot, but it’s important that everyone be contacted.”

Rebecca Guzman

Rebecca Guzman, director of spiritual formation at South Mecklenburg Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, and a member of APCE’s communications and resources ministry team, said she gets the church’s women’s circle going each week via video conference on her computer. “I check in with them and answer any technical questions and then I turn off my microphone,” she said. “They text me if they need anything. That has worked well for them.”

“A lot of older adults have family members willing to walk them through Zoom,” she said. “A number of people needed extra help — and they weren’t all older adults.”

Marcie Samuelson, director of worship and music at First Presbyterian Church in Leesburg, Florida, said the praise team at the church she serves is trying to learn new things to deepen the worship experience for congregants, most of whom are over 65. She takes video musical recordings that the team makes each week, rips the audio from the video, synchronizes the audio, then reattaches it to the video for all to enjoy during worship.

Marcie Samuelson

“They want to stay engaged with the congregation and with worship,” she said of the church’s older adults. “They are grateful to have something to do that’s important in the life of the church.”

In addition, the church’s Stephen ministers reach older adults by telephone regularly in order to check on the health of both their bodies and their minds. “If the person is looking for things to do, (the Stephen minister) knows their gifts and talents and tries to tailor opportunities for volunteering to them,” she said.

Michele Hendrix

Michele Hendrix, POAMN’s current president, said her church in San Antonio, First Presbyterian Church, has nearly 100 member age 90 or more. Especially as the pandemic has widened, deacons have been phoning those members regularly to check in.

“We space out the calls so they get multiple calls every week,” she said. “Many are isolated in their rooms and their families can’t visit. That has been a blessing, in their words, to have several calls from members of their church — and from their families, of course.”

Church podcasts have become increasingly important to members over the past few weeks. In a recent podcast, a church member who owns two restaurants talked about how challenging it is to stay in business when customers can’t dine in the restaurant. “His words were very inspirational,” Hendrix said. “It gives you a boost when it comes from your family of faith.”

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