Working with Senior Citizens - Part 2
John Bennett, Pinxton, Nottingham [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
In a previous article we looked at working with Senior Citizens through a regular gospel tea meeting. This article seeks to explore other ways in which this growing group of people can be reached with the gospel.
The personal touch
Working with senior citizens can be quite a difficult activity. By the nature of the group you are working with, there can be changes in personnel. Some become ill; some become housebound; some die. These pose on-going challenges to the continuation of the work, but also offer opportunities. Building up a short profile of people with whom you have made contact can provide fruitful opportunities.
Illness amongst older people can often be more debilitating and take longer to recover from, but it is also an opportunity for prayer. An example was given of believers from an assembly that were approached by the daughter of an attendee at the Senior Citizens’ Tea. In conveying the news that her mother was seriously ill with cancer, she asked the believers if they would pray. What an opportunity! The fact that the elderly lady made a partial recovery has proved a testimony to the family. It has also allowed the believers to demonstrate the love of God through their actions.
There is opportunity for visitation. Such matters have to be approached with due care and sensitivity, but they can make a significant impact. Provided they are able to receive a visitor, calling to see someone who is ill can help to break down barriers to the gospel, and demonstrate the reality of the message.
Equally, nothing is more effective to a family than the care of the Christians who visit and, perhaps, bring something simple for the sufferer. However, it must also be appreciated that such things are time consuming and what was planned as a short visit may turn out to be longer than anticipated! Many older people living alone become lonely, and a visitor provides a welcome relief.
When someone misses one of the regular teas, there is the opportunity to take a sample of what was provided to their house. The individual may not be able to attend on the particular occasion, but will be encouraged to attend again if they know that their presence is missed and the church actually cares. One of the greatest forms of advertising for this kind of work is word of mouth. Living in the community, to see, stop and chat to those you see at the gospel teas is a benefit because those you are trying to reach see you as a friend.
Sometimes, sadly, one of those attending the Senior Citizens’ work dies. How important to ensure that such a person heard the gospel preached, saw the message lived out amongst the Christians, and had the opportunity of salvation! We can do no more for the person who has died, but it may be possible to do something for those that survive. Their friends and relatives may not know who we are, but a simple attendance at a funeral service as a mark of respect can often provide further opportunities, at a time when hearts are only too aware of the brevity of life. With sensitivity and care, favourable impressions can be made. One lady attended a gospel meeting on the Sunday following her friend’s death because the believers attended the funeral of that friend.
Sometimes there may be the request from the family to take the funeral of their deceased relative. Such requests can bring all sorts of issues to resolve, but they also offer opportunities for the demonstration of the love of God as well as the preaching of the gospel.
Paul stated, ‘I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some’, 1 Cor. 9. 22. It is worth asking, am I?
The Service in the Residential Centre
Anyone working with children, either in schools, or children’s work, will be all too familiar with the break-up of marriages and families. Many children now have to split their time between each parent, and weekends or parts of weekends are occupied with visiting the parent with whom they no longer live. But the break-up of family life is also having a detrimental effect upon older people. The time when a large number of family members lived within a short distance of each other has almost disappeared.
In place of a network of family care for older citizens, there has arisen the residential care home. But this, in turn, opens up opportunities to visit these centres as part of the outreach activities of the local church. Such care homes would seek to provide activities and ‘entertainment’ for their residents, and often a personal visit to the manager of a local care home can provide opportunities to visit the home and speak to the residents. They see this as the provision of a ‘spiritual dimension’ to the care of their residents. We see it as an opportunity to present the gospel, either in song, or in a short message.
Whilst the time available may be limited, both in terms of when, and how long, such opportunities can be most fruitful. Apart from the residents themselves, it is possible to build up a relationship with carers, and managers who work in the home. Similarly, some residents may well have visitors and they see what you do, and may hear what you have to say. Such relationships can provide further opportunities for the distribution of gospel calendars and literature. There could also be those more agile residents who are prepared to come from the home to one of your Senior Citizens’ services.
The practical issues that arise may be summarized as follows:
Care Homes appreciate something that is regular and planned rather than something which appears ad hoc. It is worth thinking about what frequency of visit can be made when the greatest number of church members are available to support it. Every week can be a demanding schedule for even the larger companies of believers. It is easier to schedule a specific Sunday in the month as a date when you visit a particular home. It may be that visits at certain times of year would be more appropriate – e.g., Easter or Christmas. Whatever pattern is decided upon must be adhered to as far as possible if a good testimony is to be maintained.
Whilst the managers may prefer a structured pattern of visitation, the residents require a greater degree of flexibility. Older people do not like to be rushed, but so often they are not ready when the time arrives. Similarly, starting promptly may not always be possible, depending upon what residents have been doing beforehand.
Those who already have a programme of visitation to residential homes have noticed that the people they are seeking to speak to often suffer with memory issues, or, for some, dementia. There are those residents who will welcome a service which sticks to a particular format for a fixed time. The changing nature of the audience demands a degree of adaptability on the part of the person leading.
It needs to be borne in mind that singing in a residential care home may be without musical accompaniment. It needs a reasonable number of people attending to provide a harmonious sound, especially if some residents who cannot sing wish to join in! Singing hymns that residents may remember from their days of school assemblies or church attendance may also necessitate large print hymn books, if you want them to join in.
Many older people will not concentrate for a long period of time, if opportunity for a short gospel message is given, it needs to be simple and to fit the time available.
In conclusion, it is worth reminding ourselves of the words of the Lord Jesus, ‘Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature’, Mark 16. 15. Too often we interpret this as a call to the mission field of a distant country. There is a mission field in our own communities and, at the moment, many opportunities are available, particularly in this area of older people in society. We can be guilty of complacently organizing a regular gospel meeting which no one attends, when there are opportunities of reaching lost sinners that we are ignoring because of a lack of vision. We hope these articles might challenge all our hearts to do what we can, whilst we can. Only the Lord of the harvest will know what fruit has been generated for His glory!
This article has been compiled by the editor in consultation with a number of brethren who have contributed their experiences and ideas. The editor expresses particular thanks to John Coltman (Winshill) and Bob Wheatley (Higham Ferrers) for their input to this article.