One of the fastest growing demographics for almost every parish is senior citizens. Officially listed as anyone over 55, this age bracket can stretch over a range of 40-plus years and a wide spectrum of abilities.
Msgr. Edward Lofton, pastor of St. Theresa the Little Flower Church in Summerville, said the whole coast — and state — is filling with retirees, making senior ministry and its goals one of the most important discussions a parish can have.
At 70, Msgr. Lofton said he personally understands many of the issues that his older parishioners have. As the director of continuing education for priests, he recently organized a workshop on senior ministry led by Jim Hilton at the diocesan pastoral center in Charleston. They discussed the needs of the elderly, the best ways to serve them, and how to utilize their time and talents.
“They are the most diverse group in the parish,” Msgr. Lofton said, “even more so than teenagers.”
He has appointed Michael Regan, a current diaconate candidate, to help him develop an intensive senior program at the church. One of the issues they will focus on that was highlighted in the workshop includes the importance of being active for physical and mental health.
“This is not the dying process,” Msgr. Lofton said, “it is a unique time of life.”
He said the retirees in his parish get bored and want things to do, such as more Bible study, opportunities to volunteer, and various ways to learn about their faith.
He noted that older men and women have a great deal of life wisdom and experience that can benefit the parish. At the same time, it’s important to understand the unique grief seniors face as they deal with the deaths of loved ones, and even the loss of certain abilities such as vision or mobility.
Father Anthony Droze, pastor of Our Lady Star of the Sea in North Myrtle Beach, also attended the workshop. He said the losses seniors face often lead to a level of discrimination that paints them as addle-minded and mocks health ailments. He pointed to TV shows and industries such as drug and make-up manufacturers that sell youth as a more valued commodity.
“There is value in age. There is wisdom and a broader perspective that comes with aging,” Father Droze said, adding that older people are generally healthier today than in the past.
Two of the issues he sees in his parish are the isolation of people who are homebound, and the economic frailty that comes with living on a fixed income. Sometimes, he said, seniors are forced to choose between filling a necessary prescription and paying a bill.
Father Droze said he plans to stress the positives of growing older and promote an active fellowship at the church to support the elderly and include them in parish activities.
Both priests also stressed the important contributions golden-agers can make, noting that they are generous with their time. They said it’s essential that parishes provide opportunities for seniors to volunteer and help others, utilizing their many talents.