Lonely But Not Alone: How Older Adult Ministries of Mid-America is Addressing Isolation

Each year, the National Benevolent Association invites congregations and ministries to apply for a Mission & Ministry Grant. These grants are reserved specifically for projects that will impact older adults as well as historically excluded youth and young adults. Below is a story from a grantee who received funds for their work in 2021.

In 2019, the team at Older Adult Ministries of Mid-America (OAM) was deep in planning for a day-long seminar that addressed faith practices for senior citizens. The experience was set to take place in 2020 when suddenly a global pandemic changed our plans. Feeling that it was important to hold this seminar in person, rather than virtually, we decided to postpone the gathering until it was safe to be together again.

What we didn’t anticipate was a years-long pandemic that would overwhelmingly affect the older adult population our ministry serves. After two years of living in our new normal, we found a way to gather safely and in person for the seminar, but what we found was that the needs of our population had shifted.

After two years of postponing the daylong seminar on “Growing in Faith as we Age,” the day of the seminar finally come. A large group was gathered, and the room was abuzz with stories of their church’s COVID-19 journey.

Clergy and laity from six churches in the Columbia, Missouri area gathered. The host church — located in a small rural community — told the group they had lost 16 members to COVID-19 just in the first year of the pandemic. They were reeling with grief.

“All of this information about aging and older adults in the church is great, but what about my faith?” moaned Dennis, a participant in our seminar. “I am in a faith crisis because I cannot visit our homebound and isolated elderly members in the nursing homes because of COVID!”

Prior to the pandemic, Dennis, head of the deacons at the rural congregation, was deeply committed to visiting the elderly and bringing communion to them. But that all stopped, as did gathering in person for worship, in the early months of the pandemic and that had a lasting effect on the sense of community among the congregations.

Dennis’ question and the accompanying anguish are real for many caring church members. We asked ourselves, what can be done to improve the situation and the angst about it? The rest of the seminar was devoted to addressing this concern. There was sharing and comparing, discussion, and planning that day. At the end of the seminar, the group had many ideas and much hope to bring back to their congregations.

After two years of being socially isolated and distant from congregation members, Dennis could return to visiting at last, having new hope and growing faith once again in giving care to the friends who were so alone and isolated.

NBA’s Mission & Ministry Grant allowed us to safely host our seminar and create additional virtual resources for those who are severely immunocompromised and still spend much of their time at home or in small groups.

Watch the five-part discussion series that addresses many of the issues that arose during our seminar below and check out more resources for older adults at Mid-AmericaDisciples.org/older-adult-ministries.

Are you interested in receiving grant funds for your health and social service project? Consider applying for a Mission & Ministry Grant here