One of the frequent questions I am asked by church leaders is, “What is the one book I should be reading in the area of aging or older-adult ministry?" Because there are so many areas related to aging and older-adult ministries, there is no one book! But there are many good books. Here is a list of ten to get you started.
The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who've Lived the Longest by Dan Buettner. The intended audience of Blue Zones are the health-conscious Boomers. The book offers ideas about what can be learned from pockets of people who have lived extraordinarily long and healthy lives and who live in areas of the world with longer lifespans. This is the latest edition from a team of National Geographic researchers. It is written by Dan Buettner. The team interviewed the sages in the so-termed "blue zones", which were named for the blue shading done on a world map denoting areas had people with the longest lifespans. The book focuses upon a variety of wellness topics, including spirituality, behavior, and stress-coping techniques. It is a great book for church reading clubs.
A Vision for the Aging Church: Renewing Ministry for and by Seniors by James M. Houston & Michael Parker. The genius of a book like “Vision” is not that it offers a new way of framing or viewing ministry with older adults, but that it offers a number of examples of creative, innovative, and groundbreaking older-adult ministries being done currently as a way to help other churches imagine doing new things in their own settings. It confronts ageism in the church in a gentle way by helping older adults to be heard about their needs, desires, and dreams. It builds an understanding of why older-adult ministry is not ministry to older adults, but ministry by older adults in the church.
A Time of Our Own: In Celebration of Women Over Sixty by Elinor Miller Greenberg & Fay W. Whitney. This book is a collection of interviews with women, mostly middle class, regarding their discoveries about growing old. It has a lot of practical advice. I include this book as way of inviting churches to form women-over-60 discussion groups and to record their responses in a similar interview fashion. Doing so will help the participants record their legacy and also help mentor other women moving into the final chapters of their lives. This book would make an excellent start for doing this.
Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant?by Roz Chast. I am delighted to recommend this memoir. The writer keeps the focus on what is universal in the experience of living with aging parents who become progressively frail, and eventually pass. She looks at normal resultant survivor’s guilt, which can be a part of the grief process for children of declining parents. Churches often contain “sandwiched caregivers” who are caught between caring for children and caring for aging parents. This book would make a nice gift for them. It is also a book that benefits clergy and other professional staff in helping them become aware of issues as they seek to minister and support caregivers.
Your Legacy Matters: a Multi-Generational Guide for Writing Your Ethical Will by Rachael A. Freed. This book is so much more than a modern take on the ancient practice of ethical wills and how to write them. It offers strategies for taking care of unfinished business in our everyday relationships. More than this, it is about coming to a better relationship with who we are. Finally, it offers advice on how to improve the relationships with those who will follow us, so that we think more concretely not only about who we really are, but where we are going in the final chapters of life here.
Your Life Calling: Reimagining the Rest of Your Life by Jane Pauley. Everyone thinks they know who Jane Pauley is, but her book really reveals not so much who she has been and what she has accomplished in life, but who she now believes she is about to become. Her book about reinventing oneself in retirement. It shows how to do a life assessment and review to learn what we can from it and then be prepared to let go of what has been. It helps the reader discover a new self with new direction to pursue in retirement. Retirement books are very important not only to individual older adults, but to Boomer Ministry. The church has a great opportunity to minister to those reaching retirement by helping with pre-retirement planning. This book, rather than being a step-by-step guide, is more a motivational look at retirement.
Second Wind: Navigating the Passage to a Slower, Deeper, and More Connected Life by Dr. Bill Thomas. Dr. Thomas is a pioneer in the field of aging, being responsible for two movements in aging: The Eden Alternative, which is a holistic approach to medicine, treatment, and wellness, and the Greenhouse Project, a deinstitutionalization for Skilled Nursing Centers and Retirement Communities. As a fellow Baby Boomer, he has turned his attention to how the process of aging is changing with Boomers and why. He looks at generational theory and experience in the turbulent 1960s as formative and then considers how aging, retirement, medicine, and spirituality will be affected by the Boomer culture and how the Boomer culture will be changed by the experience of aging. This is an important work for churches with large numbers of aging Boomers or churches that see the opportunities presented by aging to claim and reclaim Boomers into discipleship with the church.
Upper Room Books
Voices of Aging: Adult Children and Aging Parents Talk with God by Missy Buchanan. This book is a great read for anyone over the age of 45; actually it is a great read for anyone under age 45. For those under 45, it juxtaposes common views on aging, caregiving, relationships, and spirituality, so that those this young can have a clue about what is in store for them as life progresses. For those 45 and older, the differences in thinking patterns is striking; and I feel this leads to understanding for those of both the Builder and the Boomer Generations. Understanding is the first step to being more strongly connected, not only with the aging process of parents and children, but our own aging process and the roles we play. In addition, this book reveals from a spiritual place how aging is changing, particularly with Boomers. Each reading compares and contrasts the sameness and differences of adult children and their parents and is followed by passages of Scripture and exercises of reflection to think about the wider implications of our aging. This book is priceless in helping us to understand better how we are maturing both philosophically and spiritually. This is a book that could be easily used with Sandwich Generation support groups or with intergenerational groups or with older adult and adult church school classes.
Shaping a Life of Significance for Retirement by Jerry P. Haas & R. Jack Hansen. There is real ministry to be done in the church when a person transitions into retirement. Often, younger church leaders are not familiar with the psycho-social implications of retirement, let alone the spiritual aspects that come with the territory. This book is the single best book to help leaders understand what their retiring members are experiencing and what they themselves will experience in retirement. Most retirement books look at either financial or psychological considerations, but this book also looks at the spiritual. Its greatness, however, is that it invites people to think about their own transition into and through retirement. When retirement is personalized like this for church leaders, it makes the church’s response more dynamic to those living through it.
At the Edge of Life: Conversations When Death is Near by Dr. Richard Morgan. This book is Death Preparation 101. It is one of the best books yet from an author who loves to tackle profound subjects. It is short and easily read in a day, but perhaps will take the rest of your life to truly finish. Sometimes we process overwhelming subjects in dialogue with God, with our loved ones, and with ourselves. But when it comes to death preparation, perhaps the hardest part of having this dialogue, is getting it started. Death is fearful and conversations about it are generally uncomfortable for most people. This book helps readers practice looking at their own fears faithfully. It sounds like an oxymoron, but it is not. Then Morgan includes practice exercises to prepare the reader to have dialogue with others built around what is being learned in each chapter. Some churches are using this book in their bereavement and caregiver support groups with the idea that we grieve better when our beloveds have processed their lives and accepted their deaths and loved ones have done the same. This is a book for all ages, but a book particularly appropriate for parish clergy and chaplains who journey with the dying all the time.
Will Randolph (wrandolph@UMCdiscipleship.org) is the Director of Aging and Older Adult Ministries for Discipleship Ministries.