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Graceful Aging: Formation for the Elderly

Adult formation for the elderly, what’s that all about? What formation could they possibly need? After all, they are in the twilight years of their lives, not preparing for a lifetime of living.

The reality is elderly need the same spiritual enrichment that other Christians need. Although they are a reservoir of experiences and have collected a lot of wisdom over the years, they, just like others, face the unknown. And it’s an urgent unknown. Others have a lot of time to decide, relearn, redo, but the elderly do not.

When I announced that I would be facilitating a class at Trinity, Escondido titled, “Growing in God: Grace-Filled Aging,” the response was immediate, underscoring the need. About a dozen parishioners met for the initial class series and most have continued into the second series.

I felt the Holy Spirit prompting me to see if there were persons at Trinity who might be interested in group discussions about the intersection of faith and aging. Trinity’s rector, the Rev. Meg Decker, gave the go-ahead; her robust support of this group and others brings vitality to this congregation.

The group emerged as an organic offering, from and with the congregation and myself; it was a mutual effort from its inception, and continues in that mode. We chose to use Joan Chittister’s book, The Gift of Years, for the initial offering. The time of the class was critical in early afternoon so older persons could drive in the day.

The group was not advertised with any age brackets, but the topic was self-selecting; ages range from 61-87. A basic assumption I brought to this group is that participants are all persons with profound wisdom and faith. Many have lived more years than I.

I am a facilitator who creates an environment where the wisdom and faith can unfold. To that end, the format of the group is open-ended questions that ask about personal responses to the reading. Participants bring their own questions or observations, which become the basis for our discussions.

The intent of the question format is to create openings for each person to learn about themselves spiritually, and share that with one another. For one parishioner, the discussions helped him realize that we all face struggles in the final third of our lives. Even those struggles that are similar require different solutions for different people. While there are no blanket solutions, in confidential classroom discussions, tidbits can be plucked from others’ experiences to help with our own dilemmas.

Another parishioner shared that the class discussions on regret were especially helpful. It is easy to fall into a sea of regret, wishing that we could have done things differently, even chosen different paths for our lives. The discussions gave confidence in setting those regrets aside and focusing on the joy of the present.

This group is inspiring, because they have built up trust in one another, and share in heartfelt and meaningful ways. Many face difficult life situations that often come with aging: loss of loved ones, life-threatening illnesses, money issues, retirement, the list goes on. This might seem like a group that is difficult to be in. And that is true at moments. But this group is also incredibly faith-filled and persevering. What is shared the hopes, dreams, fears, faith, losses, laughter, regrets, and more all of it becomes like that saying: “Joy shared is multiplied. Sorrow shared, is divided.” It is a group with the courage to be, one of the particular tasks of aging, and supported by a life of faith.

There are no magical answers, but there is encouragement and confidence. The class is available to all who wish to attend. It meets each Wednesday in Trinity, Escondido’s parish hall from 2 p.m. until 3:30 p.m. Email me for more information if you wish to attend. +


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