PEP Newsletter
Ideas For Your Parish

March, 2024

The Art of Aging
“People do not become old or elderly at any specific age,” stated Richard Stefanacci of the Jefferson College of Population Health. (Overview of Aging, 2022). He goes on to suggest, “When a person becomes old can be answered in different ways.” The three he mentioned are chronologic age which is based solely on the passage of time, biologic age which refers to changes in the body that commonly occur as people grow older, and psychologic age which is based on how people act and feel. “Although people age somewhat differently, some changes result from internal processes . . . called ‘pure aging.’” Other aspects of aging that he mentions can be influenced by forming healthy habits throughout one’s lifetime and into the elder years. These include following a nutritious diet, avoid smoking and excessive drinking, exercising regularly and staying mentally active. Stefanacci notes, “The sooner a person develops these habits, the better. However, it is never too late to begin. In this way, people can have some control over what happens to them as they age.”
Making Room For Newcomers
Most Catholic parishes have a large contingent of active parishioners 65 years of age and older. Many of these people continue to volunteer in the same ministries which they joined earlier in life. I had a chance to witness a gathering of ushers who “worked” the weekend Masses, most of them were over 70 years of age. There were no women among them. The pastor was anxious to have some younger men, as well as women, join this somewhat exclusive group, although the current ushers had no awareness that this was their image. An announcement was made at the liturgies that new people were invited to attend an organizational meeting of the ushers at a given evening in the coming week. This was the first time the ushers had ever gathered together in the living memory of any of the current members. A young man in his 30’s was curious and showed up for the gathering. He listened to the stories coming forth from the “veterans” and then asked what he had to do to join this ministry. One of the older gentleman replied, “Yes, you are welcome to join. There will be a place for you as soon as I die.” (I was present when this rather amazing statement was made.) It is often difficult to break into a group that has a long history.
Assests of an Older Volunteer Corps
Those 70 and over are a blessing to any parish community. They have experience, wisdom, and the time to be engaged in parish activities and programs. A suggestions concerning recruitment include:
– Offering choices for involvement in activities and programs that fit an older clientele’s gifts and desires. What appeals to those in their forties and fifties might not appeal those sixty and over.
– Make it easy for older people to sign up and join an activity, making allowances for a lack of transportation, attending meetings after dark, providing provisions for sitting rather than standing.
– Include opportunities for meeting and getting to know new people, both coworkers and clients. Many join primarily to interact with others rather than to accomplish a task.
– Make sure that the activities are well directed, stressing inclusion and collaboration rather than conformity to “this is the way we have always done things here.”
– Provide opportunities for sharing personal stories while at the same allowing time for getting something done.