by Lakesha Bradshaw Easter
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, our congregation, like many others, listed the names of our elder members and friends of the community who are home-bound due to physical and/or mobility challenges. These beloved friends frequently received cards, visits and pastoral care, yet they had limited participation in the church physical life of the church.
Pastorally, I’ve grappled with the label of “sick and shut-in.” I am of the opinion that God has the final say, and our language can be a barrier to what may be possible for ourselves and others. I often empathize with people who are unable to participate and connect more fully in the life of the church. On some level, I feel that there is more to do besides monthly pastoral visits.
To my surprise and joy, I have learned two amazing lessons about what is possible for cultivating ministry with venerated adults during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first lesson learned is that technology used in churches is not just for young people. We understand that offering online ministry opportunities and engaging social media platforms are wonderful ways for children, youth, and young adults to connect with God. Yet surprisingly, we learned that offering online worship opportunities proved to be just as beneficial to seasoned adults and elderly members who are home-bound.
This lesson is important because many people, as they age, live with limited physical mobility due to health concerns and other reasons. One member of our congregation, Carl Hodges, Sr., 98 years young and a life-long Presbyterian, has been a member of my church for over 60 years. Through the use of technology and by offering online worship, Bible study and other spiritual formation opportunities, Mr. Hodges and others like him are reconnecting with their church families, worshiping God in community again. Before COVID-19, we had not afforded our members the chance to connect with us through technology. Thank God we learned a new way to engage and include our home-bound people in worship again.
The second lesson learned is the “ministry of encouragement.” This goes a long way for older adults/elders, encouraging them through their fear and mistrust around practical technology use. According to data by the Pew Research Center, approximately 40 percent of all adults age 65 and older do not access the Internet at all. More than half do not have broadband access at home. Providing pastoral care, encouragement, and opportunities to learn is required to build confidence and trust. I often encourage members saying “if they can use a telephone, they can connect to worship, Bible study, prayer groups and other online gatherings”.
Building confidence and trust through encouragement is important because older adults/elderly are often the targets of scams. SeniorLiving.Org published an article recently stating “scammers tend to target elderly people with all kinds of schemes, taking advantage of their isolation, ease of trust, higher savings, and lack of tech savvy, among other things.” Through encouragement and pastoral support, and most importantly, a desire to remain connected to worship, we have learned that once confidence and trust develop, many older adults/elderly will lean into this new reality of life in the church. Many of our most committed online participants are over 70 years old, and most have inquired about the church continuing to provide online opportunities after the pandemic. Praise God for enlightenment, confidence and trust!
There are more essential lessons to learn as we continue to live in these uncertain times, trusting God and looking after our neighbors who are older adults/elderly. Offering practical technology use due to the COVID-19 pandemic has proven beneficial to older adult members with physical or mobility challenges. Beyond COVID-19 our continuous encouragement in practical applications of technology use in older adults/elderly is necessary as we continue building trust and confidence so that all may feel connected in the 21st century church.
The more opportunities that God gives us to connect and offer inclusion and participation for all people in the life of the church, the better the relationships and community will be for us all. Thank God for new life in the church through technology.