"The Universal Mechanism for Ministry to Seniors," by Larry Spears

Originally published on Quaker Universalist Conversations

The Description, Checklist and Comments portions of this blog post are all available as a downloadable PDF file: Ministry-to-seniors.pdf.

Is there a model [note 1] for ministry to seniors that is universal and can be applied in all countries and cultures? The demographic profile of all religious communities [note 2] is aging. Awareness of the challenges and needs of seniors is more evident. Pressures for responsiveness to the needs of seniors are growing. How do we respond and provide ministry to seniors in our religious communities?

Based on experience with local religious communities in North Dakota and Minnesota, reflection, conversations with seniors, and the experience of religious leaders, there is no model mechanism for comprehensive spiritual service to seniors. Some religious communities provide ad hoc services.

The following mechanism for ministry by religious communities to seniors is offered for review and suggestions for improvement.

The practical mechanism proposed here is an outline of a universally valid and beneficial ministry for all religious communities in all cultures and nations. Elements may be removed or added for cultural benefit to seniors in particular cultures, but the mechanism’s structure and suggested content would be applicable to all cultures.

Each of the ministry elements is an essential part of the whole ministry and directly related to deepest understandings of truth. Deletion of any element, or failure to implement any element, is a spiritual loss for the seniors, the religious community, and the world community.

Any criticisms, suggested additions, or suggested deletions to inform a revised draft of a mechanism for ministry to seniors for consideration by religious communities are welcome. There may already be in place a comprehensive ministry mechanism format superior in comprehensiveness, sensitivity, and practicality to this proposal. There may also be in place one or more of the essential elements [note3]. If so, we welcome its wide distribution.

Thanks for your assistance for the benefit of us all.

The Universal Mechanism for Ministry to Seniors – Description

Purpose: To provide support for seniors in all religious communities.

Product: A clear and intentional mechanism for meeting the needs of seniors consistent with religious and cultural traditions.

Results: The benefits of an intentional mechanism for meeting the needs of seniors include:

  • Religious community is strengthened;
  • Senior appreciation for the initiative by the religious community to address important issues;
  • Support for senior independence in their residence; and
  • Implementation of the application of religious faith in practice.The proposed mechanism for meeting the needs of seniors should include all seven of these elements:

1. Ministry of Contact: A ministry of contact provides continuity of relationship. It includes:

  • Contacts initiated by the religious community
  • Regular personal visits by personal visit, mail, email, phone, Skype/Zoom, Twitter as appropriate
  • Contact regularity for continuity and changing needs
  • Clear arrangements for appropriate emergency contact procedure.

2. Ministry of Listening: A ministry of listening to seniors provides mutual benefits. These benefits include:

  • A physical presence in listening with each senior;
  • Training for religious community members in active listening; and
  • Time-structured contacts for listening and ample sharing of senior stories and concerns.

3. Ministry of Focused Conversations: A ministry of focused conversations for seniors provides opportunity to address deep issues of concern for seniors. It includes:

  • Resolution of life issues and relationships; and
  • End times, including consideration of
    • Medical care for the duration of life
    • Advanced healthcare directive, living will and durable power of attorney services
    • The “Bucket List” of remaining activities and opportunities
    • Will arrangements
    • Opportunities for legacy arrangements before and after death
    • Residential options
    • Home care options
    • Dementias and aging diminishments
    • Final death arrangements
    • Hospice services and other assistance

4. Ministry of Shared Experience: A ministry of shared experience provides mutual sharing of practical care experiences. It includes sharing the experiences of religious community members and seniors on issues of concern relating to:

  • In-home support services
  • Residential transitions
  • Memorial meetings
  • Obituaries

5. Ministry of Food: A ministry of food provides symbolic and substantive support for seniors. It includes:

  • Symbolic gestures of kindness represented by periodic, appropriate food offerings; and
  • Sustaining, regular food delivery arrangements to support health and residential independence.

6. Ministry of Counsel: A ministry of counsel provides advice and referral to resources to address the needs and concerns of seniors. It includes:

  • Reading materials
  • Referral for theological reflection
  • Referral to legal service resources
  • Referral for financial arrangements
  • Referral for assistance services as death approaches

7. Ministry of Mourning: A ministry of mourning provides confirmation, comfort, and support for the mourning process. It includes:

  • Recognition of anticipatory mourning processes before death;
  • Recognition of anticipated mourning processes in others after death;
  • Support for caregivers; and
  • Opportunities for memorial meetings before and after death.

Senior Selection Criteria: Seniors eligible for Meeting ministries are identified as:

  • Anyone beyond their 65th birthday in age or other objective age criteria; and
  • Any person with appropriate health diagnosis, illness, or disability in the judgment of the leaders of the religious community.

Refusal: Seniors may refuse one or all of the seven ministries.

  • Note any refusal on the checklist.
  • The religious community may reconfirm the offer to each ministry in the Ministry of Contact at a later time, recognizing the evolution of each Meeting senior’s changing life situation.

Organization: This ministry is grounded in volunteers, but any parts can as well be provided through employed persons. The seven elements of the full ministry to seniors can be organized in any manner appropriate to the religious community and culture, provided that all seven elements are effectively included.

The Universal Mechanism for Ministry to Seniors – Checklist

Checklist: A checklist, The Universal Mechanism for Ministry to Seniors – Checklist (PDF file), is provided for assuring accountability for the full range of seven ministries for each eligible senior.

Use of the Checklist: The checklist is essential for accountability and to avoid circumstances of inadvertent failure that later become evident. The checklist is designed to:

  • Assist the seniors in their reflection;
  • Assist the contactor in their reflection;
  • Assist in organizing resources in and out of the religious community; and
  • Assure consistency and completeness of services to each senior.

Resources Inventory: Preparation for these ministries will likely prompt several preparatory steps including:

  • Survey of the religious community members for areas of expertise, experience, and advice to engage seniors who have questions;
  • Identification of external community sources of expertise for referral; and
  • Development of useful reading materials.

Image Sources and Notes

Both images are from Creative Commons.

1. The intent of this mechanism is to be universal. Each of the seven elements addresses the needs of all eligible humans within all cultures and traditions. Together, these seven elements are intended to represent the complete service to seniors. This mechanism was originally developed as a service to Quaker meetings and churches in the tradition of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). However, this particular mechanism is offered at this time to all religious communities, because we are all humans in need of these services. As many reviewers have commented to date, the simple placement of the specific appropriate term “congregation,” “parish,” “assembly” “stake,” “synagogue,” “temple,” or “mosque” can focus the same attention on the structure of the mechanism for that religious community.

2. This mechanism can be embraced by other cultural organizations with similar care for its members (Masons, Rotary, Muslim Women’s League, Kiwanis, Hadassah, Elks etc) as is attributed to religious communities.

3. Some religious communities have new, or long established, services that are included here for one or more of the listed seven ministries. These religious communities may benefit from consideration of the other components of this universal mechanism for augmenting their current practices.


Views: 129

Comment by Kirby Urner on 10th mo. 11, 2016 at 3:13pm

I'm not quite a senior by many definitions, a late boomer, so getting close.  Over 55 anyway.  Really it's the job of seniors, as elders, to minister others as much as others to them, or at least that's true in many cultures.  I'm not anticipating any one universal machine needing to minister to me. Many #AI bots out there wanna be my friend though, I've noticed.

Comment by Forrest Curo on 10th mo. 12, 2016 at 11:18am

Isn't there some other category of potential ministerees you could point that mechanism at instead? The screaming officialese and methodolatry of the language probably renders it safe from accidental reading, but couldn't one just ask and/or observe whether there are any geezers wanting help in their immediate vicinity?

Comment by Mike Shell on 10th mo. 12, 2016 at 11:52am

{{{grinning at Kirby and Forrest}}}

Yeh, don't want no bots coming after me either (age 66 and just now retired).

However, this is Larry's way of handling many issues.  He holds them in his heart but then abstracts the heck out of them. 

He is caregiver for his own wife in late-stage Alzheimers, so I know he feels it much more intimately than it seems.  He is teaching his own Meeting about caregiving, and this piece probably arises out of that experience.

Take a look at my follow-up post on Quaker Universalist Conversations: “ministry” doesn’t need a capital letter.  His response to my stories  was, "These are beautiful and true."


Comment by Forrest Curo on 10th mo. 12, 2016 at 12:24pm

Ow, we're all suffering this incurable degenerative disease called 'age';

the very real danger -- an epidemically-increasing danger (which seems statistically linked to the incidence of anti-cholesterol drug usage) of having our marbles depart before us makes it truly scary. Anne tells me to "Shoot me if I get that way" and while I utterly understand, that's as unacceptable as the idea of keeping a pet human past its mental expiration date...

So the best I can offer is to trust in God to guide us through what comes...

Comment by Mike Shell on 10th mo. 12, 2016 at 5:37pm

Thanks, Forrest.


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