Growing Older with Confidence
by Constance B. Fink
What can churches and families do to help older adults? Just Between Us recently asked Roselyn Staples, pastor of senior adults at Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wis., who believes that seniors are a valuable asset and a worthy investment. In this interview, Roselyn informs the church of the supportive opportunities offered by seniors, encourages both senior leaders and those assisting dependent seniors, and shares other helpful, heartfelt advice.
JBU: What is the role of seniors in the church?
Roselyn: Don’t believe anyone who says seniors are not interested in spiritual things. When we accept our bodies are not going to last, but our spirits will, we become intensely interested in what happens next. We are in a unique place in history where, for the first time, there are many healthy mature believers over 80 years old in our churches. Seniors are to model aging to the younger by teaching them (Deut.32:7) and demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit (Ps. 92:14-15). It’s sad many churches do not see aging as an important part of the spiritual journey; instead, the emphasis is on families and parenting. The church has the opportunity to be counter-cultural by embracing and respecting seniors. They are special, fun, and have much to teach us.
JBU: What are the pros and cons of age-specific groups in the church?
Roselyn: Some age-related issues need to be addressed in specific groups; for example, preschoolers and twenty-something ministries. However, most spiritual teaching and service can and should be intergenerational. Our seniors minister to new parents by praying for them. When the Twenty-Something group cleaned the seniors’ gutters and raked leaves, I watched four 25-year-old men embrace an elderly lady and pray for her health concerns. Several home-schooled families prepare and serve the food in our meetings to teach their children about service and to develop relationships with other grandmas and grandpas.
JBU: What do church leaders need to know about seniors?
Roselyn: Seniors are the easiest people in the church to work with. Generally, they are flexible, appreciative, and love to laugh. Most take themselves less seriously and take God more seriously. Seniors value the most important ministry in the church: prayer. It is essential for a healthy church and effective outreach to the community.
JBU: What encouragement can you give to the pastor’s wife or ministry leader who is a senior herself?
Roselyn: Remember the story of the woman who broke the vial of perfume over Jesus’ head and the widow who gave her offering. Do what you can and give what you have. Pray for those who are following you. Ask God for grace to pass the torch and enthusiasm to “play second fiddle.” God has a purpose for you until the day you die.
JBU: How can a mature Christian keep a fresh and growing relationship with the Lord?
Roselyn: Worship! Let God reveal Himself to you each day, then respond with gratitude and obedience. Never let yourself get comfortable. Keep pushing yourself to a place where you need God.
JBU: How can middle-aged people help their aging parents through the transition of becoming more dependent?
Roselyn: Some anxieties in dealing with parents are a signal of resisting one’s own aging process. I encourage many to read Henri Nouwen’s book, Aging. Remember, dependence is not a bad thing, for when we are most dependent, God’s power is the greatest. My mother lives with me now; she has dementia, but she is spiritually astute. Though her body and mind have weakened, her spirit has not aged. Watch for glimpses of the spirit and tap into things that keep it lively. Talk about memories; talk about the things that give joy and purpose. Also, talk about real things; for example, the funeral, so it will be a natural part of conversation at the time decisions need to be made.
JBU: What are some ways to prepare for joyful, fulfilling, and productive senior years?
Roselyn: Learn to process loss, rather than prevent it. Senior years are marked by many losses – the adjustment from life in a big house to a small bed, adjustment to life without a spouse, grieving the loss of friends, missing the nearness of family, and losing savings to health care. Your journey through these situations will be smoother and more stable if you learn to deal with loss early in life.
JBU: What advice can you share with seniors facing a second marriage?
Roselyn: Unlearn what worked in your first marriage and treat this one as new. My husband, Virgil, was my girlfriend’s husband for many years. After Mary Jane died, Virgil asked me to teach him what it would mean to be my friend, which eventually led to marriage. I was in my 40s and had been single all my life. Virgil’s children have welcomed me with respect and warmth. I have kept the memory of their mother alive at family gatherings and have been deliberate in not being “center stage,” but let them carry on their traditions.
JBU: How are you and your husband a team?
Roselyn: We share the philosophy that ministry is a lifestyle. We respect each other’s ministry and release each other to tend to ministry. We build time for rest, play, and time together; but if it needs to be rescheduled, it’s not a problem for either of us. We pray for each other’s daily schedule. Three times in our 14-year marriage, we received medical reports on Virgil’s health that sounded ominous but ended up being less serious than first thought. We don’t know how long we will have each other, so we cherish the time we have. The senior years are exciting, for they are the bridge into the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, we enter each day with excitement, purpose, and anticipation.