By Grace Thornton
The Alabama Baptist
Eileen Mitchell can think of one after the other in rapid fire. The church member who has brought flowers from her garden to place in the church each Sunday for the past 17 years. The person who has been tutoring for more than 20 years in the church’s after-school program. The man who’s been a greeter for more than four decades.
The legacy of the church goes on because of their service and that’s why a special day is on the calendar May 5 to honor the church’s older adults, said Mitchell, who leads senior adult ministry for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions.
“People forget the behind-the-scenes service that older adults provide,” she said. “In addition those long-term members help us remember our past.”
And remembering the past can propel churches forward to continue to serve their communities, Mitchell said.
Churches have so many ways they can honor these “legacy” members, she said, and it doesn’t have to be celebrated on May 5. A breakfast or luncheon, gift cards to lunch at a local restaurant or a fellowship time with the church staff could be ways to show them appreciation.
The children of the church could also prepare cards to give to each older adult, or church staff could recognize them during the service based on their age, their length of membership or their length of service.
Kenny Hoomes, associate pastor for spiritual maturity/senior adults at First Baptist Church, Montgomery, says that’s what he does on Senior Adult Day, but he lets people in the congregation choose if they’re going to self-identify.
“Since many people will not admit to being a senior I simply ask, ‘If you consider yourself a senior adult, please stand,’” he said. “This places the burden on the individual rather than asking for people of a certain age to stand.”
Commitment to the church
Mitchell suggested churches consider changing the name of the day too, if they would prefer. Members of the Baby Boomer generation, of which Mitchell says she’s a part, aren’t always a fan of being called “senior adults,” she explained.
Some churches might call it something else, like Legacy Sunday or Day of Gratitude.
“The significance is that older adults are appreciated for their service and commitment to the church body,” Mitchell said.
“We all stand on tall shoulders when we think of where we are in life,” he said. “And when we think of leaders we have known some senior adult comes to mind. Maybe that person was a parent, a grandparent or a Sunday School teacher.”
The day is a way of thanking them for leading their church to Jesus, Hoomes said. First, Montgomery, holds its special service every year on the third Sunday in May, and in addition to having a recognition time they involve the church’s senior adult choir and ask older members to be the soloist and deacon of the day.
Eloise Crossley, senior adult director for First Baptist Church, Jacksonville, says they do something similar — they have a senior adult choir lead worship and they put flowers in the sanctuary to honor legacy adults who have passed away.
They also host a banquet and entertainment to honor their church’s senior adults.
“Senior adults have worked in God’s kingdom work for a long time,” Crossley said. “Some senior adults are deacons, teachers and ushers, and some serve on many committees of the church or work with Gideons, Sav-A-Life or Meals on Wheels. They are still our strong workers for Kingdom work.”