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Honoring Older Adults

From owning the latest piece of technology to reading the most recently released novel, American culture promotes a message that new is to be valued. Add to this the fast-paced life that many Americans live and what results is a society that does not have much time or desire to listen to the wisdom and experiences of its elders. That’s one reason why it is so important for churches to find ways to honor older adults and encourage them to tell their stories.

A couple of years ago, I learned about a special event hosted by Council Road Baptist Church in Bethany, OK. The event was birthed when Carolyn Lovelady, the now retired minister with Capstone (50-plus adult ministry) at the church had it impressed upon her that something needed to be done to honor the World War II veterans. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 1,100 World War II vets die each day and a memorial in Washington D.C. is being built to honor these men.

Out of this realization, an entire program to honor veterans through Council Road was developed. On the Sunday of Veterans Day, the church rearranged all of their regular programs in order to create one special service to honor the older adults who had served their country. The entire church family from the very young to the old were able to attend the service. Carolyn says the 2500 seat auditorium was completely full. Prior to the day of the program, the service men (and the widows of those men who had already died) were personally invited to attend a special service which would honor their lives. In addition to the invitation they were sent a preferred parking pass and a ribbon to wear on their lapel.

Carolyn said that because Council Road had so many of their own veterans, they did not do any specific publicity outside the church. However, the word about this special day spread and it became a blessing to many families who were not members of Council Road. Carolyn recalls one 80 year old man who drove from Texas to Oklahoma because his daughter wanted her father to be recognized.

On the Sunday morning of the service, the veterans were met at their cars in the parking lot and/or were given valet parking. They were escorted to their seats by young people. The Sunday service included a 100 voice choir and the local army band. Carolyn said, “It had all the pomp and circumstance of a huge military service.” In addition, the senior pastor delivered a sermon on the values held by many of the World War II veterans and how these values should be integrated into the lives of adults today. He also spoke about sacrifice and taught from the Scripture about the lives of Abraham and Isaac. Special music included the Battle Hymn of the Republic and Taps. The veterans were seated together in the front of the auditorium and they exited the service to a standing ovation. They then participated in a luncheon where the Army National Band played 90 minutes of Big Band music. The room was decorated throughout with individual pictures of the veterans in uniform.

Hall of Heroes

Other highlights of the day included a Hall of Heroes where war medals and other mementos were displayed. The Hall of Heroes was set up in the church’s chapel area and was designed to be a somber and respectful experience. Service men in full uniform stood at attention in the Hall. People began their tour by viewing a professional documentary that had been produced by a man who worked for the local public service television station. Prior to the event, he interviewed many of the veterans and wove their personal stories into the film along with historical footage from the war. The stories of many of the men were printed, enlarged, framed and put on display throughout the Hall for people to read. People stayed late into the afternoon to reflect on the impact that these men had made on their lives.

Stories Written Down

Another lasting piece from the event was an 80 page booklet telling the individual stories of over 50 different men. A published author and member of Council Road volunteered to personally interview the men and write their stories. The printed booklet was given to each of the veterans on the day of the program. Council Road also made books available to other interested people for a donation. The donations they received were used to send care packages to those currently serving in the military.

Carolyn reports that the real success of the event was found in what she witnessed near the close of the day. Two young children, brother and sister, were standing near each other in the Hall of Heroes. The 4th grade girl was carefully reading out loud the story of a particular solider for her younger brother (in first grade) to hear. Carolyn said, “The crowd had thinned out and for a long time I just stood and watched this brother and sister go from one display to the next, intently studying and reading about the lives of these men. And I said, ‘That is success – the dream of my heart – that children would know these stories.’”

What have you seen churches do to honor older adults and encourage them to tell their stories?

This article was first published in a paper I wrote on intergenerational ministry with Leadership Network. You can download the entire paper here.

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