(By the Older Adult Council of the Virginia Annual Conference)
(A NOTE ABOUT COVID PROTECTIONS: All worship should be conducted in accord with the local church’s Covid precaution practices. Nothing suggested in what follows should be understood as permitting any activity contrary to those practices.)
Why a Special Day of Recognition for Older Adults
Our Book of Resolutions declares that we are to “observe an annual Older Adult Recognition Day . . . preferably during the month of May.” Resolution 3023. The Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church (2016) at 152. We do so “to recognize and celebrate the gifts, talents, and contributions older adults make within and beyond the local church,” as well as to “provide congregations with the opportunity to learn more about the issues and concerns related to aging and older adulthood.” Id.
While Older Adult Recognition Day can be observed anytime during the liturgical year, it has become customary to have this special Sunday in May to coincide with May’s Older Americans Month or on one of the Sundays between Mother’s Day (May 8 this year) and Father’s Day (June 19 this year).
Whichever Sunday you select, the day provides a wonderful opportunity to recognize, and to educate your congregation to the fruits of lives well lived and ministries well done.
Themes: We should acknowledge and honor our older adults in three ways.
- First, by acknowledging their ministry, not only in what they have done in the past but what they are doing today and can do tomorrow. Psalm 92:12-15.
- Second, by seeking them out to invite them into our lives. Jer. 31:12-14
- Third, by ensuring that they are cared for not only in our spiritual environment but in our physical and social environments as well. Zech. 8:4-8.
Older Adult Recognition Sunday is the perfect opportunity to raise up all three ways. Older Adult Recognition Sunday can also serve to include laity of all ages in the worship service. Your worship planning team should look for opportunities throughout the service time to do that and to invite participants, especially your older members, into that participation. Here are some ideas culled from our own experiences that can be used for in-person and for recorded worship:
You can set the theme of the older adult service right from the start with a special candle lighting ritual. Here are some suggestions.
- Passing the flame 1—if your usual practice is to have a youth as acolyte, on this Sunday have one of the congregation’s older adults bring the flame forward and light the candles.
- Passing the flame 2–Have an older adult bring the light forward to the altar to hand it over to an acolyte or, if you don’t have a recognized acolyte, to a young person to light the candles.
- Recognition—have the older adults process into the sanctuary to their seats with the acolyte leading them in.
Call to Worship
The call to worship should explicitly recognize the calling of our older adults. There are several excellent calls to worship for Older Adult Recognition Sunday in the references linked at the end. Depending on the call selected, consider asking one of your older adults to act as leader.
Hymn sing—if you can safely use congregational singing during your service, invite the older adults who are present to select favorite hymns for a congregational sing-along.
Singing alternative verses—conduct a hymn with alternating voices—all, older adults, youth, children, others, singing alternate verses.
Here are links to a few hymns that are appropriate for an Older Adult Recognition Day service. All are in the public domain and all are short. They were recorded by, and gifted to us by, the Chancel Choir at Raleigh Court United Methodist Church in Roanoke under the direction of Debra LeBrun, Director of Music Ministries and with Ms. LeBrun as the Organist.
“Great Is Thy Faithfulness” UMH 140, verses 1 and 3 https://youtu.be/_iaxNcYlx2k
“Be Thou My Vision” UMH 451, verses 1 and 2 https://youtu.be/cdBokncVv1c
“Standing on the Promises” UMH 374, verses 1, 2, and 4 https://youtu.be/Rb5noK_9rJE
“Faith of Our Fathers” UMH 710 https://youtu.be/xGqtoBrCgFQ
Other hymn suggestions appropriate for the day can be found at the links provided with the references given below.
Prayer Stations and Celebrations—consider having places in the sanctuary, and time during worship, to provide opportunities for celebration and thanksgiving. These can include:
- Words of Thanks—3×5 cards and pens available at a table for people of all ages to use to write words of thanks and recognition for an older adult in their lives. Ask that the cards be put into the offertory basket. Or, have the cards brought forward to be read out loud.
- A Thousand Lights—have a station with small candles (tea candles work great) to allow worshipers to light a candle to remember an older adult who helped them in life and in their faith journey.
- Prayers made visible—have a basket set aside with slips of paper describing actions that one can do during the coming week to recognize our older adults. These can include commitments to pray, to visit a homebound or someone in assisted living, to invite an older adult out for meal, to help by offering a ride or to do shopping for those who are homebound. Be creative and look to the needs of your older adult community both in the church and in the wider community.
Litanies—there are many litanies available to use (see the resource links below). Use one of them or, better yet, craft one of your own to recognize individuals of your aged community, those past and present. No matter the litany you choose, consider having the congregation pray the liturgies in rounds with youth, middle, and older adults taking turns being the “leader”.
Six Words of Thanksgiving—distribute 3×5 cards before worship and challenge those at worship to write a “thank you” for an older adult in their lives. Tell them they must use no more than six words. Collect the cards during the offertory time and read them aloud.
There is a rich store of scriptures honoring our older people and their talents for ministry. You will find many in the resource links given below. Here, to get you started, are some of our favorites:
- The older ones in need and needing to serve: Mark 1:29-31—the story of Peter/Simon’s mother-in-law; an older in need of care and able and willing to serve.
- The older ones ready to act: Joshua 14:6-13—the story of Caleb at 85 ready and willing in his old age to claim the promise of his heritage at God’s hands.
- The older ones as resource: 2 Kings 22:3-20—how the priests went to the prophetess Huldah for advice and to hear the word of the Lord.
- The older ones as blessings: Luke 2: 22-38—the prophets Simeon and Anna bless the infant Jesus.
- The old and the young together, blessed in God’s creation: Psalm 148.
- Testimonies—consider inviting one or more members to come forward with a testimony of how they were influenced in their lives by an older adult. —
- Interview videos—in the weeks leading up to your Older Adult Recognition Sunday celebration, interview your older adults about their faith stories, their ministries and their stories of the church. Video these interactions and show the videos before, during, or after worship time in fellowship.
- Invite a special guest to talk about older adult ministries. Here is a video from one of our Council members, Rev. John Conway, describing the ministry of an older adult in his congregation that you might consider using.
- Invite an expert in older adult ministries to speak to the congregation about older adult issues and challenges. Resources are available from our Council to help with that.
- Communion Sunday—Having your celebration coincide with communion Sunday provides wonderful opportunities for recognizing that the Body of Christ includes all ages. Here are a few ideas:
Have one or more older adults carry the elements forward to hand them to younger participants and together to place them on the table of the Lord.
Have older adults in the community serve the elements to those coming forward for communion.
Have younger adults or children serve the elements to those who need to be served in the pews.
Extending the Table— during the service recognize that the communion table includes the homebound members of the community as well. Find volunteers to take communion to the homebound after the service.
Older Adult Recognition Sunday is a perfect time for a special collection for our United Methodist ministries that work with and for our elderly. One ministry we would suggest that you consider for a special collection is Pinnacle Living’s Samaritan Offering. The Samaritan Offering is from Mother’s Day-Father’s Day annually and your gifts go to ensure the personal security and peace of mind of Pinnacle Living’s most vulnerable residents.
Older Adult Recognition Sunday should not end with the worship service. Here are some things to consider doing to keep the celebration going during a time of fellowship:
- Pairing—arrange pairings of a youth or a young adult with an older adult or adult couple for the fellowship time. Provide some questions that the older adults can be asked about their faith journey, their remembrances of the church history. Also provide questions for the older adults to ask their young partners. Some examples might be: “Show me how Facebook works.” “What is an ‘Instagram?’” “What is Tic-Toc?”
- Story Tables—arrange beforehand for volunteers among the older adults who might be willing to sit at a table and tell a story about growing up in the church or about their military service or about what they are doing now in ministry. Work to have one older adult per table and make a sign briefly describing the story they are willing to tell.
- A Walkaround—during fellowship time or during the coming week arrange to have members of the Board of Trustees walk around the church property with one or more older adults to see where there might be physical obstacles that hinder older people or where changes can be made to make their life in the church easier. Don’t neglect the Sanctuary in this tour or restrooms.
- Resource Table—Older Adult Recognition Sunday provides a great opportunity for exploring resources that are available for our older adult population. There are not only resources available through the Virginia Conference websites given below; there are also Federal, State and County programs and resources for older adults and their caregivers. Just one example: Dementia Friends of Virginia provides programs to show congregations how to be dementia-friendly for those who are suffering memory loss. Here is a link to Dementia Friends of Virginia’s website: Dementia Friends Virginia.
- Creating a Legacy Box—plan to have a Legacy Box Workshop either after worship or sometime during the coming week. This is a great way t include congregants of all ages in a project. For information on how to do this project follow check out the link on our Older Adult Council webpage or contact your District Office and ask for a Legacy Box kit.
- Sacred Circle Dance—Another great way to bring the younger and the older together, provide time for this ancient form of meditative prayer and dance. Sacred Circle Dance embodies and integrates the mind, body, and spirit in music and dance to evoke a spiritual dimension leading to harmony and balance for all ages. The music and dances are from all around the world. Today Sacred Circle Dance is also used as a form of physical and mental therapy. Here is a short segment showing how Sacred Circle Dance can work to bring generations together.
To learn more, contact Joan Tipton (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Tammy Tipton-nay (email@example.com). Joan and Tammy were both professional dancers. Joan has studied Sacred Circle Dance and has taught many forms of dance for more than 60 years. Tammy has a Master’s of Arts in Christian Education from Union Presbyterian Seminary, a Masters of Science with a concentration in Dance from James Madison University and a Bachelor of Arts from Mary Washington University.
Not Just One Sunday
As United Methodists, we—all of us, laity and clergy—live into connection. That means that we are to be in ministry to respond to God’s call to holy living in the world. Discipline 2016 at ¶135. As our Social Principles declare, this includes living as a nurturing community that provides the potential for nurturing human beings into the fullness of their humanity. Id. at ¶161. Among those who are to receive special attention to their “unique concerns” are the ageing among us. Id at at ¶162 E. If we are to do this work in the world, we should certainly do this work within our worshiping community.
Older Adult Recognition Sunday was created “to recognize and celebrate the gifts, talents, and contributions older adults make within and beyond the local church,” as well as to “provide congregations with the opportunity to learn more about the issues and concerns related to aging and older adulthood.” The Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church (2016) at 152. That recognition should not be limited to one Sunday out of the year.
Older Adult Recognition Sunday Resources
Here are two links to the United Methodist Church’s older adult ministries resources. They provide a wealth of information for designing your Older Adult Recognition Sunday worship as well as other important material:
- UMC Discipleship Ministries Link for worship resources: Discipleship Ministries | Equipping World-Changing Disciples (umcdiscipleship.org)
- UMC’s Office of Ageing Adult Ministries link (although it looks identical to the worship resources link, this one will take you to the main web page for older adult ministries): Discipleship Ministries | Equipping World-Changing Disciples (umcdiscipleship.org)
Our United Methodist Book of Resolutions (2016) at ¶ 3024 is a great resource for providing general guidance in ways of recognizing and calling upon our older adults.