A Disability Concerns conference focused on how older adults can meaningfully engage in the life of the church.
By Grace Miedema and David Vandervelde
Last April, we made our way to Woodstock, Ontario, and arrived to find a full church parking lot. But of the ten spots reserved for seniors, only one was occupied! Was this the right place—or was everyone there in denial about getting older?
We expected the senior parking to be full because the event was called “Aging: Challenges and Opportunities.” The conference was hosted by Disability Concerns, a joint ministry of the Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRC). Disability Concerns helps churches become places where everybody belongs and everybody serves—and that includes keeping older adults engaged in the life and mission of the church, in spite of mental or physical changes that can be challenging.
Inside, there was a pleasant buzz of anticipation, lots of grey hair, a few mobility assists, and the smell of hot coffee. Settling into comfortable chairs and round tables, we were led in worship by a self-described “happy grandma,” Diane Plug. She confessed she has a hard time remembering names. Still, she said, she can reassure a widower who has no one waiting for him that God is in his home. God knew his name and loved him.
Keynote speaker Syd Hielema carried on this theme of our relationship with God. Even as the creaks and groans of old age set in, God sees something bigger in us. Hielema referred to Walter C. Wright’s book The Third Third of Life: Preparing for Your Future. God sees the third third as an “ever increasing glory.” Seniors may be tempted to give up, saying they are finished, but our creator knows what he put into us. God can continue to grow Christ in us if we walk together with him.
People in the third third of life can give others the deep grace of honesty. The depth and length of experience has taught us that life is bigger. God is deeper and stronger than our fears. Such grace-filled honesty can help us on the journey to be overflowing with the love of God. Hielema reminded us that in the Reformed liturgy, every week we have the privilege of laying down our false identities clouded with sin. We can start fresh and forgiven again, every Sunday anew. It’s comforting that God is patient, even when we get discouraged with our constant failing. He doesn’t expect us to live at 120 clicks. He will go with us at three kilometers per hour. God is willing to walk with us. In the third third, that’s an accessible and acceptable pace.
In spite of the negative feelings that can arise in old age—that we are forgotten, ignored, underestimated, and quietly talked about—there are still many opportunities for seniors to increase in glory, becoming more like Christ. We all have our abilities and disabilities, and we all can continually grow in our faith and contribute to our faith communities, loved and nurtured by our heavenly Father.
Grace Miedema is a retired campus minister in the CRC who lives in Aylmer, Ontario. David Vandervelde is pastor of Ebenezer Reformed Church in Stoney Creek, Ontario. This article was originally published in Christian Courier (www.christiancourier.ca) on May 28, 2018.