During the Easter Season, we celebrate what God has done for us and the world in Jesus Christ. A powerful gift that Jesus gives is the enlivening presence of his Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth…. You know him, because he abides with you and he will be in you. I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you” (John 14:16-18, NRSV). The gracious Holy Spirit guides each Christian personally. The Spirit of the risen Christ also draws us together as a community of faith. The Holy Spirit will uphold the church until the Lord returns.
Each of us is empowered by the Spirit to serve as an advocate for those who are vulnerable. This is a way that God continues to show faithful love to and through the community of faith. As the psalmist sings, “Father of orphans and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. God gives the desolate a home to live in” (Psalm 68:5-6, NRSV). God creates and sustains a spiritual home for people of all ages in the church. Our community of faith is nurtured by communion with the risen Lord, the heart of our worship life. From this central shared experience, we realize Jesus’ care and concern for one another. We may then communicate Christ’s love for others.
Shared life in a community of faith is especially important for older adults. In the United States, more people are becoming “elder orphans.” This term may have been created by Maria Torroella Carney, MD, who is head of geriatric and palliative medicine at North Shore-LIJ Health System. Elder orphans are older adults who have no surviving relatives to take care of them. This may be due to death or divorce, estrangement within the family, or because a person did not marry or have a child. These experiences can isolate a person from nurturing relationships.
The church can encourage older adults to focus on supportive relationships they experience with peers and younger generations. We can work together creatively to help people enjoy meaningful friendships in our congregations. This can be especially helpful in an era when extended families may be geographically spread out across the country.
Consider ways that your church can intentionally develop ministries with older adults, particularly those who are homebound. One way may be to develop a regular ministry of visitation. The pastor and leaders of the caring ministry team can stay in touch with those who would like visits. They may then talk with individuals and families who would enjoy sharing in the ministry of visitation. They may prayerfully discern which older adult to match them with. In the summer, families may be glad to share a visit with an older adult and bring a worship bulletin. Depending on the age of family members, they could also share something from vacation Bible school, a youth mission trip, or a special service project.
There may be some older homebound adults for whom visits may not be appropriate, but they or their families might appreciate receiving cards on a regular basis. Consider developing a “card care” team to send cards on a regular basis to homebound people.
Consider creating teams of people who will bring Holy Communion to those who cannot be physically present in worship. Members of the team may bring the elements blessed at each celebration of Communion later that day to such persons, using Word and Table V in the Book of Worship (51-53). For a full description of how to organize such a ministry, including how to create “Communion kits” for each visitor, see Mark Stamm’s book, Extending the Table, available from the Upper Room Bookstore (https://is.gd/qRruAM).
By intentionally encouraging intergenerational friendships in church, you can help people of all ages to see glimpses of the Holy Spirit, our Advocate, working in our midst. Together, we may discover the joy of living as part of the kingdom of God. The Lord rejoices when we share the loving kindness that we have received. In partnership with homebound older adults, younger generations may discover the truth of Jesus’ parable, “I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me…. ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me’” (Matthew 25:35-36, 40, NRSV). Empowered by the Spirit, we may find that by living as a community of faith, we receive more blessings than we give.
The Rev. Rosanna Anderson is Associate Director of Intergenerational Ministries at Discipleship Ministries.