Older but wiser: Kentucky church keeps older members active
By Mary Jacobs
Pearl Wood and Flo Crooks tell preschool children what it was
like to live in the 1950s, including the popular clothing styles that were worn.
Katherine Flowers, 90, had never tried line dancing before in her life. Mary Ann Sturma, 82, had never played a musical instrument. But Ms. Flowers and Ms. Sturma recently tried each for the first time at OWLS.
Older Wiser Laughing Souls (OWLS) is the older adult ministry of Reidland United Methodist Church in Paducah, Ky., and both ladies can’t say enough about it.
“It’s a group where you can find fellowship, things to do and people who care,” says Ms. Sturma. “It’s just great.”
The OWLS meet once a month for a meal along with an activity at the church or an outing to a nearby restaurant or attraction.
“If there’s something of interest in the area that the bus can go to, we go,” said Ms. Flowers.
“We get to do things we might not do ourselves, because many of us do not like to drive at night,” said Ms. Sturma.
“This program has really bloomed,” said Cathy Burkhead, volunteer co-coordinator of OWLS. “The older adults have a voice and they are a big part of our church now.”
The group has about 50 regular participants; Reidland’s weekly worship attendance averages around 200. Like many United Methodist churches, Reidland’s congregation is aging. More than 30 percent of the church’s membership are people 70 and older.
OWLS began in 2005 after organizers attended an older adult workshop at nearby Trinity United Methodist.
“We came away with wonderful ideas and books to guide us in this ministry,” said Ms. Burkhead.
And things took off from there. One church member, a recent retiree, obtained a special driver’s license so that she could drive the church bus. Another started a hand chimes group called the Owleluia Chimers, which plays at worship services. In 2007, the older adults’ group was invited to take charge of the church’s worship service.
“It was so warmly received that we have been asked to do it every year,” said Ms. Burkhead. “The service provides the opportunity for the congregation to celebrate the gifts and contributions of older adults, and it is loved by the entire congregation.”
“It’s not difficult to get seniors involved,” said Ms. Burkhead. “We survey them once a year and ask what types of programs and speakers are of interest.”
Ms. Sturma says she’s volunteered more than 15,000 hours at a local hospital—a project she loves—but it’s easier to make friends and find fellowship at OWLS. She’s dealt with a number of health problems and surgeries in the last 15 years or so, and says fellow OWLS support each other with similar problems.
Ms. Sturma is also quick to praise OWLS for serving older people in the community who are not members of the church.
“I have a Catholic friend who has no relatives in town, no way to drive and no way to pay,” she said. “But they always pick her up and include her in all the outings and meals, free of charge. I think it’s great that they reach out to others outside of the church. It’s food for the body and the soul.”
“We always provide a meal with our programs and activities, and we carry lunches to those who can’t make it,” Ms. Burkhead said. “That’s a big part of our program.”
The Rev. Vida McClure, older adult coordinator for the Paducah District, says Reidland’s program works well because of its dedicated volunteers.
“The first thing that is needed for a strong older adult ministry is a group of volunteers with a love and a desire for working with older adults,” she said.
But Ms. Burkhead, along with co-coordinator Lynda Cochrum and half a dozen other volunteers, say they find the investment of time pays off many times.
“Participating in an OWLS event, I feel like we sat with Jesus and walked with him,” she said. “The participants are so appreciative and thankful.”
Ms. McClure adds that older-adult programs must be tailored to the needs and interests of participants. Programs on crime protection, identity theft, assisted living and planning for the end of life have been effective in the older-adult ministry she coordinates at nearby Clinton United Methodist Church.
Reidland plans to lead a workshop in the fall to reach out to churches that do not have older adult ministries, with an eye toward partnering with those churches to help them start similar programs.
“It’s very important to have this type of ministry, because these folks have much to give to us,” Ms. Burkhead said.
Mary Jacobs, Aug 6, 2008
PHOTOS COURTESY OF REIDLAND UMC