A Guide to Creating Wholistic Ministries for Senior Adults

By Knutson, Rev Lois D. | Aging Today, March/April 2003 | Go to article overview

A Guide to Creating Wholistic Ministries for Senior Adults


Knutson, Rev Lois D., Aging Today


THE AGING SPIRIT

My initial interest and fascination with holistic ministry began during a residency I had in clinical pastoral education at a Mayo Clinic hospital in Rochester, Minn. As I took the initiative to understand the whole patient, my supervisor suggested that I formulate a spiritual diagnosis after each visit. As I did so, I connected the patient's spiritual journey with the person's psychological outlook on life, family dynamics and socioeconomic situation. Eventually, Iwould write Understanding the Senior Adult: A Tool for Wholistic Ministry (Bethesda, Md.: Alban Institute, 2000).

After serving in the parish ministry in California for nine years, I received a spiritual call to rural Minnesota to serve concurrently as a visitation pastor for a 1,900-member congregation-with over 500 members who were 65 or older-and as a chaplain in a 120-bed nursing home. In order to develop specialized skills in geriatric ministry, I enrolled in the Geriatric Pastoral Care Institute at Luther Seminary in St. Paul. There I learned about the aging process and was afforded time and opportunity to develop my theology of aging, research the best tools for conducting a spiritual assessment, integrate spiritual assessment with my theology, and adapt the assessment process to parish ministry with older congregation members.

ON THE RIGHT TRACK

In creating my goal-centered, holistic ministry program for older adults, my overall purpose became to help older people experience spiritual meaning and peace in life. I applied my goal both in one-on-one visitations and at the congregational level. I knew I was on the right track: Ministry with older people was not only my professional calling but also was central to my personal life, in my role as a long-distance caregiver to my mother. As I developed my program, I constantly asked myself, "How would I want my mother served by her congregation?" My role model both for the godly life and how to endure suffering, my mother has scoliosis, fibromyalgia and arthritis, and she also deals with other challenges related to the aging process. I made sure that my program would serve my mother meaningfully.

When I reported my first vulnerable elder to adult protective services, I knew conclusively that my holistic Parish Spiritual Assessment Tool (PSAT) could make a powerful, positive difference in the lives of older adults, not only in my congregation but also in others. My visitation tool is a compilation of nearly 300 discussion questions-usable by laypersons and clergy alike-that help older adults experience spiritual meaning and peace in life. The discussion questions are organized into six components: spiritual, psychological, family, socioeconomic and medical issues, as well as questions for creating the assessment and plan. They can be used to deepen an elder's life agenda, can become the format for meaningful dialogue when an individual does not initiate conversation, and can help provide guidance for crucial life situations.

Using the PSAT, I assessed that first situation involving the vulnerable older adult in the following ways. Spiritually, this person wondered why God allowed him to suffer, even though he prayed constantly. Psychologically, he felt forsaken by his family and God. His family neglected him, he experienced social isolation and he did not qualify for low-income governmental programs. …

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