The Woodlands UMC connects with seniors in all circumstances—be they widowed, in poor health, or active and vital.
The Church: The Woodlands United Methodist Church in The Woodlands, Texas
The Challenge: Establish a senior-adults ministry that connects isolated older adults to church and provides opportunities for them to socialize and serve others.
One Big Idea: Love and connect with seniors in all circumstances—be they widowed, in poor health, or active and vital.
Many of the elderly people who attend The Woodlands United Methodist Church in Texas weren’t active in a congregation until their golden years, according to Don Meador, pastor of senior adults.
In their mature years, they start going to church to spend time with their children or grandchildren, he says. But others lack close relationships with family members.
“They’ve reached a time when they’re so isolated and lonely, they will ask a friend or a neighbor, ‘Tell me about what you do at the church,’” he says. “Sometimes, I’ll be able to visit with them, and they discover there really is something to it, and it can change their life.”
More than 1,800 seniors attend Woodlands. At the church, which has an average weekend attendance of 6,000, seniors have opportunities both to serve and to be served, Meador says.
The church, for example, organizes a monthly gathering for seniors diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, and their caregivers. At the event, they dine and sometimes even dance together. Meador, a retired pastor who works part time leading the ministry, says the church routinely attempts to give seniors opportunities to socialize. They try out different restaurants in town each month as part of the church’s Lunch Bunch. They take part in game nights at Woodlands, go on short and extended trips together, and participate in low-impact exercise classes.
“Because of the size of our church, we can offer many varied activities,” says Vanessa Amelunke, Woodlands’ senior-adults ministry assistant. “But beyond that, Rev. Meador encourages ‘lay-led’ ministries, and we have vibrant seniors who are very giving with their ideas, their time and their talents.”
Woodlands also reaches seniors who can’t travel to church. Staff members and volunteers visit nursing homes, retirement homes and seniors who are homebound because of illness. The church also offers a program called Elder Rides for those older adults who need transportation to doctor’s appointments. And at both Easter and Christmas, the church brings flowers, treats and gifts to homebound seniors as part of their Shepherd’s Care ministry.
Meador says the church’s outreach to the elderly would not be so robust without the help of more than 100 regular volunteers, many of whom are seniors themselves. They work as “pew stuffers,” he says, putting information in the envelopes the church distributes to congregants each week.
“We have a large group that helps count the money,” Meador says. “Our seniors are free during the day to do these kinds of things.”
Elderly members of Woodlands also engage in light physical work, such as putting together supplies for the church’s mission team.
“We have seniors who are very involved,” Meador says. “Many of them are in our choir. We also have a senior adult choir called the Goldenaires. They tour most of the nursing homes and retirement facilities and some of the service clubs in springtime and fall. They sing for worship services.”
Approaching the end of life gives seniors a unique relationship with God, Meador believes. They have fewer distractions at this stage and, thus, more time to reflect on their spirituality and to deepen their faith.
“They begin to hunger for something deeper than they’ve ever seen before,” Meador says. “It’s wonderful to see that unfold, a time to consider a life of prayer and Bible study. That’s part of the joy of the senior ministry.”
THE WOODLANDS UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
The Woodlands, Texas