A Booming Need
Ideas Parishes Can Use to Server a Fast-Growing Population
By Barbara Lee
As a spiritual director with a ministry to the aging, I often hear two complaints from older men and women about parish life:
First: “We’re left out. Parish activities focus on families and young people, most parish events are held in the evening, and many are in inaccessible spaces.”
Second: “We’re stereotyped. People tend to think we’re all cognitively impaired and talk down to us, or they think we’re in need of ‘diversions’ like bingo and bus tours.”
Clearly, the people who articulate these concerns are underserved. There are a number of ways parishes can correct the imbalance without spending a lot of money or staff time.
Understanding Parishioners Who Are North of Sixty-five
According to the Census Bureau, the percentage of the US population over sixty-five is increasing at a faster rate than any other age group. In fact, this group is projected to nearly double—from 52 million in 2018 to 95 million by 2060. Those numbers will only keep growing, since the last of the baby boomers (born from 1946–1964) are in their late fifties.
While these statistics are useful, it would be a mistake to focus on age as a definer. Some people feel and act old in their fifties; others are active and productive at ninety. It’s more meaningful to look at people who have had certain life-changing experiences, which may not (neatly) match their chronological age. Some of the major subgroups are:
- retired people, including those who chose retirement and those who were forced to retire.
- empty nesters, who may be lonely and live in houses or apartments that have become too big.
- grandparents who have responsibility for small children whose parents are working or incapacitated.
- caregivers for disabled parents or spouses, a group that is increasing in size as people live longer. Many women in their sixties and seventies—and it is usually
- women—are caring for parents in their eighties and nineties.
- widows and widowers, who often overlap one of the other subgroups.
- people who have suffered other kinds of losses, such as hearing, mobility, energy, or the need to give up driving.
Now that we’ve defined some segments in the larger group, some concerns these individuals face include:
- redefining who they are after they have retired or the children have grown.
- making major life decisions, such as downsizing or arranging care for a disabled spouse or parent.
- dealing with fears that come with aging. The statement: “I don’t want to be a burden” can often be translated as: “I’m terrified of losing my independence.”