Helping Elderly Embrace New “Blooms”

Helping Elderly Embrace New “Blooms”

Jim Stinson, Former Consultant on Older Adult Ministries


“I have an appointment with April.” Purportedly these are the last words delivered by George Santayana—philosopher and poet—as he presented his last lecture as a professor at Harvard. Santayana had inherited enough wealth to allow him to retire early. As he spoke to his class, he glanced out a window and noticed a forsythia bush in full bloom. So taken by the sight, he stopped what he was doing, gathered his papers, put them in his brief case, announced to those attending the lecture, “I have an appointment with April,” and simply left the room.

Is this an accurate detail of history or something else? I don’t know. But even so that statement occasionally haunts me, especially during the Easter season. How many appointments with April have I not kept, how many promises of new life have I ignored? I was revisiting this memory of “an appointment with April” recently, pondering all its implications when a thought appeared. “The task of ministry is to invite people to keep their date with April, to keep their date with new life.” 

It sounds almost trite to say that. It is anything but! It is difficult to offer that invitation to those at seeming dead ends in their lives. Seeing the promise of new life while experiencing loss, grief, pain, anxiety, life threatening illness and a host of other hope destroying realities is not an easy thing to do. Being the one to point to that promise, to offer an “appointment with April” is perhaps even more difficult. Yet it is clearly the task of those in ministry to do precisely that.

One thought, as usual, led to others. One was the realization that a ministry to/with older adults has its own special challenges to this task. Many older adults, in fact most, have come to their senior years having experienced the loss of multiple loved ones. Many have one or more physical limitations. Many have cognitive issues. All know, at some level, that they have lived more years than they have left to life. They know about dead ends. Some are so consumed by the dead ends that they see no forsythias bushes in bloom.

How we offer the invitation, how we witness to new life, may be open to question, but that we are called to do so as ministers of the Gospel is not. Our faith is grounded in a resurrection, grounded in the ever-new possibility of life in the midst of death, of hope in the midst of despair. It does not cease to be the task when dealing with older adults. Effectively ministering to and with them never happens if they are unwilling or unable to see the forsythia bush before them. Before we can do this witnessing effectively, an honest look at our vision of growing old is needed. In some cases we have to adjust that vision to be in accordance with the Gospel we preach and teach. We have to see each individual, regardless their circumstance as those who still have work to do, who still have a purpose. It is not always easy to affirm that truth, but it is always the truth. The forsythia bush is there, even to our last breath where, even then, new life awaits.

“I have an appointment with April.” We all do! Even those we see as “old people” need to be invited to their own appointment with April.

Feel free to print or share with your congregation. © 2012 Rev. James Stinson