After knocking on his door and asking permission to come in, I introduced myself to a new resident at Bishop Wicke Health and Rehabilitation Center, where I serve as the Director of Spiritual Life.
His response was similar to one heard many times over the years since taking this position. “You may not want to talk to me.
I do not go to church, am not religious, and am not sure I believe in God.” “Well I did not come to push church going or religious beliefs, I came to say hello, to hopefully get to know you, and to let you know I am always available to you.” “Oh,” he said, “If that is all you want, have a seat.”
The rest of the visit was most interesting. He, voluntarily, shared more of himself on that first visit than expected. It did not take long before he raised the issue of religion, of his spiritual journey (what he referred to as “what makes sense out of my life”). Out of that conversation, lively discussions have grown, as has a meaningful relationship.
What I find impressive about this story is a growing awareness for me (as a United Methodist pastor); that “church talk,” “God talk,” and other such language often speaks to our own needs and comfort levels, rather than the needs of the one to whom we are ministering. It can shut down conversation even before it begins.
For those caring for and about older adults, it is good to remember that most people are only too happy to talk about their spiritual journey, their fears, their hopes, and where and how they can make sense of their situations, when our language and approach is non-threatening.
I first became an ordained member of the New York Conference of the United Methodist Church fifty years ago. Through my time with the pastoral ministry, I worked extensively with older adults, many of whom were members of my congregation. I also served as the Director of Spiritual Life for United Methodist Homes from July 2002 until my retirement in July 2015, providing guidance and support to residents, family members, and staff. I love reminding people that “old” is not a dirty word and encourage others to adopt a healthy perspective on aging. I am also the author of a book, Just Because I Am Old – A Practical and Theological Guide To Caring, which was recently published in 2014.
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