Serving Greater Vancouver & the Fraser Valley
12 months...12 ministries SENIORS (#11)

12 months…12 ministries SENIORS (#11)

by Peter Biggs




• CHILDREN & YOUTH Ministries   • S E N I O R S    • MENS & WOMENS Ministries 


By 2041, seniors are projected to comprise nearly a quarter of the Canadian population, as compared to 14.8 per cent today according to a 2012 report by Elections Canada



Recent studies have resulted in alarming discoveries of the impact of loneliness in seniors. 

A University of California study found that participants 60 years and older who reported feeling lonely saw a 45 percent increase in their risk of death. Survey respondents who felt isolated also had a 59 percent greater risk of mental and physical decline than their more social counterparts. This decline manifested specifically in participants’ abilities to perform activities of daily living (ADLs), the six basic tasks that are necessary for truly independent living. 

A senior’s social circle also reduces by ceasing to drive.Hearing loss and an inability therefore to keep up in conversations also leads to loneliness and depression.

Veteran Pastor and Chaplain at Chilliwack Hospital Jim Gaetz comes across heart rending lonliness in seniors often. 

His introduction to patients is, ‘Hi I’m Jim, a chaplain. I’m just stopping by to make sure you’re not worried or scared’. He finds the vast majority are worried, many scared and alone. “I find lots have a faith background but have drifted. Facing eternity they want to connect with God. Perhaps

they are from out of town, kids have moved away and so many have dropped out of church, so there’s no support or visits from anyone,” he says.

The loss of a spouse always results in complex challenges either through death or divorce (described sometimes as a ‘living death’). A person may be rejected by the spouse’s family and friends – it hurts. Which often brings financial insecurity and anxiety. 

The 2016 Statistics Canada Census, found that the percentage of one-person households is at an all-time high and is now the most common type of living arrangement. A quarter (24.6 percent) of the population aged 65 and over now live alone. 

Escalating losses

Beginning in early middle age there begins a series of inevitable losses – loss of looks and loss of work (retirement) for men this is often associated with a loss of self esteem. Later comes the loss of the familiar: the family home, and cherished possessions. Peers die. With aging comes chronic health issues:  diabetes, arthritis, joint replacements, aches, pains and not uncommonly an acute health crisis: hip fracture, cancer, stroke, heart attack. 

Loss of hearing and sight should not be underestimated as it often reduces social involvement for a senior – which diminishes the size of their world.

As the decades pass there are more significant losses such as driving and memory (minor for most). Jokes abound about the loss of sexuality in old age. In many cases this is more humour than fact as many seniors do retain libido. 

Experiencing death

After 70 begins the steady passing away of aging friends and relatives. Karen Baillie, CEO at the large seniors complex Menno Place states “I find seniors do not find ‘death’ a difficult subject to talk about – most have experienced it over and over.”

In their 80’s many experience the loss of a spouse. Apart from the emotional consequences, a couple with CPP/OAS pensions can together just about afford the cost of living. Along with bereavement a surviving spouse becomes financially challenged, often unable to afford the basics. 

Food Banks report a striking increase in senior’s usage.


Along with the normal aging process, there is also the more serious risk of dementia in its various forms. The number of Canadians with dementia is rising sharply according to the Alzheimer Society of Canada. As of today, there are over half a million Canadians living with dementia – plus about 25,000 new cases diagnosed every year. By 2031, that number is expected to rise to 937,000, an increase of 66 per cent. Of those diagnosed with dementia over the age of 65 most are women.

Pastor Walter Wiens of Clearbrook MB comments, “Another issue is that of assurance, ‘Will God still care for me when I can’t express my thoughts, even my prayers, as I once could? Am I really a Christian?’”


The Canadian Psychological Association states, 

“Depression increases the risk of death in older adults by 2 to 3 times. Depression constitutes the most important factor associated with risk of suicide in old age.

It amplifies the functional disabilities produced by physical illness and interferes with treatment and rehabilitation. Undiagnosed and untreated it further contributes to decline in physical and cognitive functioning…

… A history of depression in earlier adult life is a risk factor for depression in later adulthood.’

The Clearbook Corridor

Within a few blocks in Abbotsford, four organizations have formed a strategic alliance to focus on seniors: Clearbrook MB Church, Bakerview MB Church, Tabor Village and Garden Park Tower.  

They recently facilitated their second ‘Older Adults Wellness Festival’ with dozens of exhibitors and many workshops. Pastor Wiens works with seniors, “Especially in our western culture, our value is often based on what we can contribute and do. We may assume that we are useless when we cannot do what we once were able to do. This means we need to address the topic of what constitutes a person’s worth. We need to affirm that a person’s value is a given and has never been based on factors such as ability or strength. This is especially relevant for older people.”

aging churches – passing the torch?

Many churches can visibly seem very full of ‘gray hairs’. What is leadership to do when half the church will have passed away in 10 years? Some assume seniors find it difficult to relinquish power. Pastor David Bornman of West Coast Christian Fellowship, East Vancouver disagrees, “Churches where the seventy year olds didn’t move aside – that phase has passed. I don’t see it as the resistance of the older generation as much as the young people disconnecting themselves.”

Sharon Simpson, a regular writer on seniors’ issues comments, “In our church, seniors head our prayer ministry but the group is led by millennials who have more energy to lead.” 

One large Abbotsford church with an aging congregation elected to appoint a brand new leadership team from millennials. This bold move has resulted in a major turn-around and growth.

The Church must avoid implicit agism (preference of young over old) and the trend toward excessive homogeneous separation (different groups – teens, young adults, seniors). Pastorally there is increasing need for serving and encouraging seniors in the local churches.

R E S O U R C E S:

48 Great Ideas for Local Church Seniors Ministry by by Richard H. Gentzler Jr. United Methodist Church, Discipleship Ministries    CLICK TO DOWNLOAD pdf 


Aging Matters by R. Paul Stevens

Stevens delves into matters of calling, spirituality, and legacy in retirement, showing that we must continue to discern our vocation as we grow older in order to remain meaningfully engaged for the rest of our lives. He reframes retirement as a time of continued calling and productivity and points to biblical wisdom that can help us redefine aging as an extraordinarily fruitful season of life.


Vision For The Aging Church: Renewing Ministry for and by Elders by James M. Houston and Michael Parker

Confronting the idea that the aging are mostly a burden on the church, they boldly address the moral issues related to caring for them, provide examples of successful care-giving programs and challenge the church to restore broken connections across the generations.

Author: Peter Biggs

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