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Cottage Hill offers safe exercise program for senior adultscomment (0)

October 3, 2002

Hope Jackson starts her Wednesdays swinging, stretching and strolling around the fellowship hall at Cottage Hill Baptist Church, Mobile.

The she climbs a few flights of stairs to join her fellow sopranos in the senior choir. But before the tennis-shoed 87-year-old flexes her way through an exercise class and sins scales during choral warmups, she and her friends bow their heads in prayer.

They seek God’s blessings for those in need and thank the Almighty for the gifts they have received.

That divine communication, she said, makes all the difference.

“I like the fellowship,” Jackson said. “It’s just a wonderful, inspirational thing. I hope the Lord will just keep me going.”

These days, the Lord — along with advancements in health care — seems to be keeping millions of Americans going longer than ever.

More than 34 million people in the United States today are 65 years old or older. By 2030, that population will grow to 70 million.

The booming senior population translates into big challenges for Ronnie McCarson, minister to adults 55 plus at Cottage Hill, and other senior ministries across the nation.

McCarson is trying to beef up the congregation’s ministry to older residents. In addition to providing a safe place where seniors can exercise, visit and play games on weekday mornings, McCarson would like adults to come to the church to take classes in everything from computers to quilting.

“We want the seniors of this area to know that there’s a place they can come to,” McCarson said, pointing out the absence of any nearby senior center.

“It’s for the community,” McCarson said.

“If somebody is unchruched, we’d love them to come here.”
But, he emphasized, the program is not designed to increase membership at Cottage Hill.

For more than a decade the congregation house a government-funded SAIL — Senior Adult Independent Living — center, but in 1996 elected to pull out of the program. Members wanted to utilize their resources differently, including creating a meals-on-wheels program and to avoid some of the restrictions that accompany government-funded programs, McCarson said.

Today, members of Cottage Hill, as well as those representing the area Methodist, Episcopal, Presbyterian and Jewish communities come to the church every weekday to pick up meals to deliver to about 80 people.

“If they can’t pay the $3, we take care of the cost,” McCarson said. “Nobody’s going to go without.”

Don Morgan, 58, a member of Cottage Hill, came to pick up 11 meals to be delivered one recent weekday.

Two years ago, he said, a call went out for volunteers; he and his wife responded.

Since then, the couple have delivered meals to a handful of adults once a week.

Demographically speaking, Morgan is exactly the adult McCarson hopes to reach.

“Fifty-year-olds don’t want to hang out with the 80-year-olds,” McCarson said. “I think you’re going to have a multilevel senior adult ministry.”

Charles Arn, author of “Catch the Age Wave: A Handbook for Effective Ministry with Senior Adults,” agrees that there’s value in splitting up the grownups.

Indeed, Arn said that when churches only have one senior adult ministry, they may keep people away from the group.

“One of the mistake assumptions is that a lot of church leaders are operating under is one senior adult group or ministry in the church is adequate,” he said. “Obviously, it isn’t.”

Some have dubbed those between the ages of 50 and 69 as “middle adults,” and recognize the group as a cohort completely separate from those ages 70 to 84 — “older adults” — and the “elderly,” who are 85 years old and older.

“More and more, particularly as people live longer and retire sooner, even the word ‘senior’ or ‘senior adult’ is politically incorrect,” Arn said.

“Most people think of themselves as somewhere between 10 and 20 years younger than they actually are. All of us make choices based on our self-image.”

Arn, who is president of Church Growth, Inc., in Monrovia, Calif., said one of the greatest dangers for any group — one including older adults or anyone else — is an inward focus.

“There’s a tendency in many churches that have a senior adult group or ministry to see that group primarily as one, well we sometimes call it a ‘Happy Times Travel Club,’” Arn said.

“Almost invariably, groups die out through attrition and never have any significant impact on the growth or life and vitality of the church,” he explained.

But, he said, “When seniors do start realizing that they can have a positive influence in changing lives, it gives them a whole new sense of dignity and value.” (RNS)

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