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AGING WELL: A “grand” ministry opportunity Missy Buchanan, Jun 22, 2011
By Missy Buchanan Special Contributor
When it comes to my grandchildren, I am a grizzly bear. I will do whatever it takes to protect my time with my grandsons, 2½-year-old Quintin and 6-month-old Oliver. In fact, I am quick to turn down speaking opportunities and media events if they conflict with my regular four-day visits with the boys.
My husband and I look forward to babysitting our grandsons while our son and daughter-in-law oversee their Texas Hill Country restaurant on a busy weekend. Since their home is almost five hours away, a visit requires all four of us to coordinate our schedules. Admittedly, it’s a different scenario from when my own children were young. Their grandparents lived less than 20 miles away, so visits were frequent and often spontaneous.
Recently I sat with a group of women who are in the same grandparenting boat. One woman, a college professor, hops on an airplane every four to six weeks to go see her grandchildren who live in a different part of the state. Another woman has adjusted her work schedule so she can leave early on Friday afternoon to make the 200-mile drive to be with her grandchildren once or twice a month. In spite of the soaring prices of gasoline and airplane tickets, having face-to-face time with grandchildren remains a top priority for many of today’s grandparents, including the fast-growing population of boomer grandparents who were born between 1946 and 1964.
It’s a phenomenon that is affecting the church, too. As a director of older adult ministries of a large United Methodist church recently told me, it is almost impossible to get boomer grandparents to take on long-term commitments at church because they are frequently gone to see the grandkids. So why should this topic of grandparents be important to the church?
Amy Hanson, author of Baby Boomer and Beyond: Tapping the Ministry Talents and Passions of Adults over 50, believes the church should not simply dismiss the time, money and energy that grandparents spend on building relationships with their grandchildren. In fact, Dr. Hanson sees the role of grandparenting as an important way to reach aging boomers in the community and to nurture church members, too.
“The church needs to be interested in grandparenting because so many of the people sitting in the pews on Sunday morning are grandparents! Grandparents have the potential to influence younger generations in a very powerful way,” says Dr. Hanson. She adds that even though God’s people are commanded to pass on the things of God to the next generation, many adults today really don’t know how. The church has a great opportunity to step in and offer practical advice and help.
In building a ministry with grandparents, Dr. Hanson suggests that churches address real-life issues that are on the minds of grandparents. For those dealing with the challenges of long-distance grandparenting, the church might offer a seminar with ideas for strengthening the grandchild-grandparent bond, even though they are separated by miles.
The church could also host workshops for grandparents with grandchildren who have divorced or separated parents. Certainly, they could use help on how to deal with complicated family issues and relationship struggles in a Christ-like way. There is also a great need for support and encouragement for the growing number of grandparents who suddenly find themselves thrust into the primary parenting role when their adult children are unable to care for their own children.
Some churches and conference centers are offering grandparent-grandchild retreats or special events that focus on fellowship, fun and spiritual renewal. The UMC’s Epworth-by-the-Sea on St. Simon’s Island in Georgia hosts an annual Grand Camp, a special summer camp for grandparents and their school-aged grandchildren. Local congregations would also do well to offer more short-term ministry opportunities for oft-traveling grandparents who are hesitant to jump into long-term leadership positions.
It is true that today’s grandparents look and act differently from those of past generations, but the biblical call remains the same. Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come. (Psalm 71:18)
And so, this grandmother grizzly bear is packing her bags once again.
Ms. Buchanan, a member of FUMC Rockwall, Texas, is the author of several books, including Don’t Write My Obituary Just Yet: Inspiring Faith Stories for Older Adults (Upper Room Books). Visit her Facebook page, Aging and Faith.