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Preaching to Third Agers: The Challenge of the Gray '90s

By Richard L. Morgan
Significant transitions are likely to occur during the late fifties, sixties, and into the seventies which challenge one's self concept and require a new sense of direction. Challenging the "young old" to grow socially, mentally, and spiritually -- to discover the excitement of caring for themselves, their world, and other persons -- will forestall stagnation, loneliness, and self-pity.16

Indeed, many people in the pews are full of creative energy and power, rich in experience and wisdom, and crave new challenges, not comfortable rockers.

A sermon on the faith journey of Abraham who left his "father's house" in Ur of the Chaldees, and at age seventy-five began a new pilgrimage of faith would resonate with the needs of many Third Agers. As for Abraham, this venture was a redirection of life, a new pilgrimage of faith; so for them, retirement and aging can mean new directions, further growth, and renewed experiences in faith.

Another example of a balanced approach to preaching to Third Agers is a sermon on Jeremiah 18: 1-6. As Yahweh did not discard the old clay, but reworked it into another piece of pottery, so God can redirect and rework the lives of older people. Opportunities for ministry by the elderly are only limited by our vision. Older people can be redirected and recycled into creative use of their retirement years.

Preaching to Third Agers in Nursing Homes

Although frail elderly in institutions only represent 5 percent of the elderly, that number will grow astronomically in the next twenty years. Worship is crucial for people in nursing homes. Like the ancient Hebrews in Babylon, frail elderly in nursing homes often wonder, "How can I sing the Lord's song in a strange land?" They feel uprooted, transplanted, if not abandoned. Like the priest and Levite, we have crossed by on the other side, while closing our eyes to this geriatric segregation, and allowed systematic removal of frail elderly from society as a whole.

Churches could adopt a nursing home in their community, provide oversight, and offer spiritual services. Individual residents could be "adopted" as members by congregations. It is a travesty that all too often our churches have allowed offbeat revivalists to take over preaching in nursing homes and use their "scare tactics" to further intimidate or threaten old people. One elderly resident once said to me, "What was wrong with that preacher who spent so much time talking about death? Was he having a problem with dying?"

There are serious problems in preaching to residents of nursing homes. Clyde Fant has outlined some of these problems.

- The dynamics of a multigenerational audience are changed

- Worship is often conducted by various clergy on a rotating basis, thus providing little continuity in preaching

- Because some clergy perform the task grudgingly, they are poorly prepared

- Many such clergy, especially the young, seem to think that what people want to hear is a sermon on death. Sermons and homilies on the meaning of life are more needed

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