These ten essays selected from the Quarterly Papers on Religion and Aging along with the editor's Introduction and an Index cover significant aspects of aging and ministry (both lay and professional) with aging and elderly people. They are as important and relevant today as when they were first published from 1984 to 1994 by the Poppele Center for Health and Welfare Studies at Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Missouri. They are simultaneously co-published as Volume 12, Number 2, of the Journal of Religious Gerontology.
"A Holistic Approach to Ministry" by the first Poppele professor, Sociologist David B. Oliver, sets the tone for the entire collection. His thesis is that, instead of adding frail older individuals to other categories of rejected persons, churches "should be the first to reach out, latch-on, and make room for older persons so that they may bless our presence with their wisdom, experience, and stories" (pp. 7-8). The physical, psychological, social, and spiritual aspects of aging are all related to an ethic of love that extends far beyond meeting minimal service requirements and results in rich rewards for all who serve with God's power.
The important place of religion in gerontological research, training and practice is sketched by the late Barbara Payne Stancil, whose chapter includes 45 references to published sources. She emphasizes that, since no other social institution except the family pervades the lives of older people more than the church, major attention should be given to religion and aging in parish life, clergy training, gerontological research, and residential and nursing homes. The paper by James W. Ellor and Robert B. Coates focuses upon educational needs of the clergy. Their necessary ministerial skills include empathy and small group leadership, for which the clergy of their research felt best prepared, and counseling, social policy analysis, and family therapy, for which they felt least prepared. More attention to general pastoral skills with the elderly ought to be provided in seminary education, an objective that can be achieved by emphasizing relevant issues of older people in general pastoral courses and adding courses specifically focused upon work with the elderly.
Twenty reflections by Oliver on do's and don'ts for ministries with older persons in the church, synagogue, or parish provide down-to-earth guidance for clergy and laity alike. Central to the list is that such ministry ideally should be with older persons or from them to the rest of us, never only to or for them. Exciting aging programs that survive over time were initiated by one or two dedicated persons who started small; turning a good idea over to a committee tends to kill it. Every religious community should have a visitation program with a name that is well known by all members. It should be a lay ministry encouraged and facilitated by the minister, priest, or rabbi. By developing a variety of programs, the needs of each older person are more likely to be satisfied, but they should not merely copy successful secular programs. The simple addition of compassion tends to eliminate religion unless their context is clearly grounded in the Christian or Jewish faith.
Theologian Warren Carter discusses passages in the New Testament that affirm the commandment to "Honor your father and mother" with its applications to us today by describing their context in the Hellenistic world and the Greek philosophy that prevailed when Jesus and the Apostles lived. Chaplain Pamela S. Hart similarly exemplifies many important ways in which the Psalms are "the voice of humanity," not merely descriptions of life, but life itself. They are honest about the joys and sorrows of life as it is, with no effort to hide or cover up its afflictions, so they are "a timeless treasure and a blessing to nursing home ministry" (p. 68). Several cross currents of theology in the Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Protestant perspectives on aging are the focus of Lindsey P. Pherigo's paper.
The late Robert E. Buxbaum shows how looking within ourselves to identify unresolved fears and emotions related to our aging and death can help to remove barriers to wholesome relationships with the elderly. Gerontologist Leo E. Missinne, now at the National Catholic School for Social Service, describes and analyzes three approaches to the mystery of suffering (by Viktor Frankl, Martin Gray, and Harold S. Kushner), wrapping up with comments on the example of Job in the Bible. He concludes that there is no all- embracing answer to that mystery for all people, but only many partial answers.
The concluding essay on aging and desert spirituality by theologian W. Paul Jones claims that society's focus upon doing as the basis for meaning is pushing the elderly into a "desert" by destructively arousing societal aversion to them. But aging can be restored to its unique integrity as the final stage of living when it is viewed from the purifying perspective of spirituality. Through the conversion of motive one is opened by grace to the glory of simply being alive without a need to act, succeed, or justify one's life. By facing the finality of aging in that "paradox of contingency," a person can receive each speck of life back as a gift, and living can become an end rather than a means.
Thus these papers provide an excellent foundation for Christian ministries and services with, for, and by older adults. Some details, such as the average income of congregants (p. 32), are outmoded because the reference dates and dates of the original essays are not reported, and there are more typographical errors than is typical of Haworth books, but these are minor flaws. The overarching perspectives and conclusions of each essay are fully in tune with current research and recommendations for action of the latest religious gerontology. The needs for further research that are suggested are still relevant, and many innovative commentaries on theory and action stimulate insightful reactions. All who are interested in religion and aging, whether for personal, educational, scholarly, or applied and practical purposes, will benefit from this book.