Caring for Older Adults — From a Distance

by Dr. Richard H. Gentzler, Jr., director, ENCORE Ministry

As church leaders, our calling to love our neighbors is not something new, but it is ever evolving and changing as we understand the new normal being realized in our churches and communities as we face the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the coronavirus continues to invade countries, states, counties, and neighborhoods, healthcare workers, medical equipment, and resources are stretched to the limit. Churches and businesses are closed and families are staying home. There is growing concern about significant financial, physical, and mental health needs as social isolation is magnified.

Now more than ever older adult members of our congregations need our care and support. They are some of the most vulnerable and hardest hit by the pandemic.

Keep these helpful guidelines in mind as you and your church members work out new ways to care for older adult in your church and community.

1 – First, do no harm! Safety first. Follow all health guidelines and follow procedures established by the Center for Disease Control (CDC): https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html

2 – Do all the good you can but recognize that you can’t do everything. Stay focused to the task at hand. Don’t try to take on more than you can handle.

3 – Stay flexible. The world is changing rapidly and what we know to be true today may not be so next weekeven tomorrow!

4 – Take care of your needs. Respond to the crisis, but pace yourself and take care of your own physical and spiritual health and personal safety.

5 – Think long term. What we are presently experiencing within our churches and communities may indeed be the new normal.

6 – Keep your congregation informed. Communication with members of your congregation is vital for the over-all health and effectiveness of your ministry. Strategies for communication include:

  • One-to-one phone calls, emails, texts,Zoom conversations
  • Leadership team video meetings
  • Small group video meetings for study and sharing
  • Large group blast emails and texts
  • Social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram
  • Print media distribution such as newsletters and other mailings

Get started by:

1 – Building a team. Gather together people in your church who want to be in intentional ministry with older adults.

2 – Gathering information. Identify the needs of older adults in your congregation and community. What do older adults need right now: groceries, financial assistance, emotional reassurance, spiritual encouragement?

3 – Identify existing church ministries that already provide some form of care for older adults in your church. For example, United Methodist Women (or Men) or a senior Sunday school class may already have the means for reaching out to older adults in your church. Know what ministries are already in place and what is be working well in meeting needs of older adults.

4 – Assess community resources and know what services are available to older adults. Contact an Area Agency on Aging, senior citizens center, or Council on Aging office in your community for information.

5 – Develop a shared vision. Build on your strengths and assets. Explore options as a team to discern your response to the needs of older adults.

6 – Develop a ministry for your congregation that meets the needs of older adults. Identify resources and key personnel who can champion the ministry response of the church.

7 – Evaluate the effectiveness of your ministry. Find out from everyone involved in your ministry – older adults and leaders alike – how well you are doing. Identify needed changes and continue the areas of success.

For more information about intentional ministry by, with, and for older adults, visit the ENCORE Ministry website at www.encoretnumc.org.

Dr. Richard H. Gentzler, Jr., is director of ENCORE Ministry of the Tennessee Conference of The United Methodist Church. Contact him at Richard.gentzler@tnumc.org.