Later life is a time of reassessment and reflection. What sense can we make of the lives we’ve got lived? How can we come to phrases with sickness and dying? What can we wish to give to others as we get older?
Lynn Casteel Harper, 41, has thought deeply about these and different religious questions. She’s the creator of an acclaimed ebook on dementia and serves because the minister of older adults at Riverside Church in New York Metropolis, an interdenominational religion group identified for its dedication to social justice. Many of the church’s 1,600 members are 65 and older.
Each Thursday from September to June, Harper runs applications for older adults that embody Bible research, lunch, live shows, lectures, academic periods and workshops or different types of community-building. She additionally works with organizations all through New York dedicated to dismantling ageism.
I spoke with Harper just lately concerning the religious dimension of growing old. Our dialog, under, has been edited for size and readability.
Q: What does a minister of older adults do?
A big a part of my job is presence and witness — being with folks one-on-one of their houses, on the bedside in hospitals or nursing houses, or on the telephone, nowadays on Zoom, and journeying with them by way of the vital junctures of their life.
Typically if individuals are going by way of actually troublesome experiences, particularly medically, it’s straightforward for the story of the sickness and the struggling to take over. A part of my position is to affirm the opposite dimensions. To say you’re beneficial regardless of your illness and thru your illness. And to affirm that the group, the church is with you, and that doesn’t rely in your capability or your skills.
Q: Are you able to give me an instance of somebody who reached out to you?
I can consider one at present — a congregant in her 70s who’s dealing with a surgical procedure. She had numerous worry main as much as the surgical procedure and she or he felt there could possibly be a chance she wouldn’t make it by way of.
So, she invited me to her residence, and we have been in a position to spend a day speaking about experiences in her life, concerning the issues that have been vital to her and the methods she’d just like the church to be there for her on this time. After which we have been in a position to spend a while in prayer.
Q: What sort of religious issues do you discover older congregants bringing to you?
One of many issues, undeniably, is dying and dying. I see numerous older adults wanting to precise their issues and needs relating to that.
I can consider one girl who wished to plan out her memorial service. It was actually vital for her to consider what could be particular for the congregation and her household — a present she wished to go away behind.
I hardly ever encounter a fearfulness about what is going to occur when somebody dies. It’s extra about: What sort of care will I obtain earlier than I’m going? Who will look after me? I hear that particularly from people who find themselves growing old solo. And I feel the church has a chance to say we’re a group that can proceed to look after you.
Q: What different religious issues often come up?
Individuals are trying again on their lives and asking, “How do I make sense of the issues that perhaps I remorse or perhaps am proud or am ambivalent about? What do these experiences imply to me now and the way do I wish to reside the remainder of my life?”
We invite story sharing. As an illustration, we did a program the place we requested folks to share an vital object from their residence and speak about the way you got here to have it and why it’s vital to you.
For an additional program, we requested, “What’s a spot that’s been vital to you and why?” That ended up being a dialogue about “skinny locations” — a Celtic idea — the place it feels just like the veil between this world and the subsequent could be very skinny and the place you’re feeling a reference to the divine.
Q: Your work revolves round constructing group. Assist me perceive what which means.
That’s one other theme of spirituality and growing old. In center life and earlier in life, we’re incentivized to be self-sufficient, to deal with what you possibly can accomplish and construct up in your self. In later life, I see a few of that shedding away and group changing into a very vital worth.
There are numerous varieties of communities. A religion group isn’t primarily based on shared pursuits, like a knitting membership or a sports activities staff. It’s one thing deeper and wider. It’s a dedication to being with each other past an equal alternate — past your capability to pay or repay what I give to you in type. It’s a dedication to going the additional mile with you, it doesn’t matter what.
Q: How did the pandemic and religious issues change or affect the character of religious discussions?
Each Sunday, our congregation presents a second of silence for the victims of covid-19. And each Sunday, we checklist the names of congregants who’re sick and who died, not solely of covid. It’s constructed into our observe to acknowledge illness and dying. And that grew to become one thing much more wanted.
As a lot as there was numerous fear about isolation and our older adults, in some ways our ties with each other grew to become stronger. I noticed an amazing quantity of compassion — folks extending themselves in very gracious methods. Individuals asking, “Can I ship groceries? Does anybody want a every day telephone name? What can I do?”
Q: What about pandemic-related loss?
The grief has been heavy and can reside with us for some time. I feel that the continued work of the church now’s to know what to do within the wake of this pandemic. As a result of there have been a number of layers of loss — the lack of family members, the lack of mobility, the lack of different skills. There have been important adjustments for folks, emotionally, mentally, financially or bodily. A lot of our work will probably be acknowledging that.
Q: What have you ever realized about growing old by way of this work?
I’ve realized how actual and pervasive ageism is. And I’ve been introduced into the world of what ageism does, which is to deliver disgrace in its wake. So that individuals, as a substitute of shifting towards group, in the event that they really feel like they’re compromised bodily or in another method, the temptation is to withdraw. I’m pained by that.
Q: What else have you ever realized?
How wildly inventive and liberating growing old could be. I’m round individuals who have all types of expertise: all these years, all these tragedies and triumphs and all the pieces in between. And I see them each day exhibiting up. There’s this freedom of being with out apology.
I’m so appreciative of the creativity. The honesty. And the actual radical consideration they pay to one another and the world round them. I’m all the time remarking what number of of our older adults take note of issues that I hadn’t seen.
Q: It appears like a type of bravery.
Sure, that’s proper. Braveness. The braveness to nearly be countercultural. To say, even when the tradition tells me I don’t have a spot or I don’t actually matter, I’m going to reside in a method that pushes again in opposition to that. And I’m actually going to see myself and others round me. So that they’re not invisible, even when they’re invisible in a bigger cultural sense.
These of us who aren’t of superior age but, we frequently suppose we’re doing a favor by being round older folks and listening to their tales. I don’t see it that method in any respect. It’s not charity to be round older adults. I’m a greater individual, a greater minister, our church is a greater place due to our older members, not regardless of them.
It displays poorly that our creativeness is so stunted and restricted in terms of growing old — that we will’t see all of the presents which are misplaced, all of the creativity and the care and the relationships which are misplaced after we don’t work together with older adults. That’s an actual religious deficit in our society.
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