Who Are the Old?

What factors determine when a person is old?

Doug and Carole Kilcher are serving in a Seventhday Adventist pastorate in Pennsylvania.

WHOM DO we picture when we say "aged" or "elderly" or "old"?

Is it Aunt Bertha, who cries every time the young people's group comes for Sunshine Band, because she wishes she were able to go to church to hear those beautiful old hymns sung again?

Is it Mr. Brown, whose arthritis has become so crippling that he no longer can stand erect and tall as he used to?

Or is it Mary Martin, who really is not capable of living alone, yet refuses to move into a retirement center as long as she can move at all?

Even more frightening is the case of Freda Murray, whose mind seems to be failing her rapidly. Every time she turns on an electric appliance, her life is in jeopardy, for she's apt to fall asleep, forgetting the milk steaming on the stove, or the grease in the frying pan. Is she the person we picture as old?

Or is it retired Bob Plinkert, who is so involved and active with community and church affairs that his wife has to nag him constantly about doing too much?

Are they wealthy or on welfare? Are they sick or well? Are they independent or nonproductive? Do they have a purpose in life, or has life lost all meaning? Who are the aged, and why are they society's forgotten generation?

Several things determine when a per son is old. Birth dates alone are not the key. Psychological age is determined by many factors: flexibility, attitude, and outlook on life—to name only a few.

Conceivably, a person at age 40 who is rigid and set in his ways may be considered psychologically old, while a person in his 70's may have the spice of life and be considered the life of the party.

Society may force the role of the aged upon an individual at 65 when mandatory retirement encompasses him. One's attitude, however, and acceptance of this new role can make the difference in his feeling of usefulness. This, in turn, helps determine how others feel about him, which, in essence, gives a feeling of self-worth.

When is a person old? Could we say that it is when he first feels unwanted or unneeded—when he sees that life is going on with another generation "in charge"? As cars and appliances are outdated by new models, so the aged feel that they, too, are outdated. Their warranties have expired, and their usefulness has been unplugged. The church, then, has a responsibility to make all its members feel needed and useful.

The Church's Role in Meeting This Crisis

Studies with children show that they are what they are expected to be. So it is with the elderly. If your church program has no place for the elderly, they will be placed on the shelf, to spend their time in lonely isolation. Without the prod ding of others to reach out, react, respond, or love, a person growing old may turn inward to indulge his feelings of hurt, bitterness, and self-pity.

Conversely, if there are activities and programs geared particularly for the senior adult, the church may have tapped a vital resource that can provide a unique ministry to serve needs both within and without the church family. A family-life department within your church should actually encompass the entire church, including the widowed, divorced, single, and elderly, as well as nuclear families.

Through columns in church newsletters and special programs for the elderly, the church can become aware of their needs, and they can be challenged to use their special gifts to benefit the ministry of the church. Special speakers from community agencies such as RSVP (Retired Service Volunteer Program), AARP (Association of American Retired Persons), and local county adult-service agencies can be invited to speak about opportunities for seniors' involvement in civic concerns, as well as share cur rent information and news of benefits to senior adults.

Adult-education classes could be offered, or brochures obtained from local high school and community college continuing- education programs to encourage ongoing learning among the seniors. Car pools could be formed to help them attend.

Consideration could also be given to intergenerational church activities, Sabbath school classes, and family-worship fellowships. Potluck meals could be held at the church once a month (or weekly), where seniors who live alone would have opportunity for fellowship, along with receiving a good, nutritious hot meal. You may want to consider opening the program to community seniors, asking for a small do nation to cover the cost of the meal. What an opportunity to witness for healthful living!

How about a pre-retirement planning seminar for those facing retirement years? Those already retired could serve as valuable resource persons. The Challenge of Retirement, Housing and Location, Legal Affairs, and Meaningful Use of Time are but a few appropriate topics that could serve as a valuable learning experience for those in attendance.

Providing a telephone network of buddies who contact one another daily gives seniors who live alone a feeling of security and compassion.

Who are the aged in your church? Are their needs being met? What is their ministry to your church?

Don't wait for "George" to do some thing about it. Take advantage of the opportunity now, for if time should last we will all grow old. It's part of God's design. George may still not have done anything. What then?


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Doug and Carole Kilcher are serving in a Seventhday Adventist pastorate in Pennsylvania.

November 1977

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