Are you using technology to include older adults in parish life? Or have you concluded that older adults and tech “don’t mix?” If you fall into the latter category, you really should reconsider. A congregation in central Montgomery County is successfully engaging elders online.
St. Mary Magdalene initially adopted Zoom, an online platform that allows people to join conference calls through either a video link or a regular phone line, for formations. As a multicultural parish with a wide catchment area, the logistics of Baptism, confirmation, and wedding preparations were radically simplified by the shift to Zoom. But when clergy tried a phone-in Evening Prayer service for Advent, they discovered a bonus: active participation by older adult members, including some who had not been to church in over two years. Below, Barbara and Kitty, St. Mary Magdalene members, dial into a service with their prayer book.
“The idea came about because we realized that most of our housebound parishioners were not able to access our Facebook page to watch Sunday services,” said Rev. Sarah Lamming, rector. “We wanted to see if they would use the phone, instead.” The answer was a resounding “Yes!,” with longtime members reconnecting with each other--and the church--after hiatuses not of their choosing. The age range on the calls actually stretched from 9 to 89, making the service also intergenerational. Double bonus!
“One housebound parishioner told me, ‘I feel connected to God again,’” said Lamming, who quickly moved to expand what she calls her “Zoom ministry.” Tuesday evenings at 7 o’clock now find St. Mary Magdalene saying compline and praying for one another -- all facilitated by Zoom. Participants use a print booklet of compline with additional prayers, pictured below.
And the numbers keep growing. One church member called in recently from their hospital room; commuting parishioners also call in from their cars and transform the stress of rush hour into a time for contemplation. Andy and his wife Modestine, pictured below, call in from their apartment, and invite their friends and neighbors. The service has connected Andy with his congregation from home, but it also connects him with friends who join him and Modestine for the call.
Want to start phone or digital ministries in your congregation? St. Mary Magdalene offered Seabury a few tips:
Multi-generational ministry means multi-platform. Prayer service participants are able to call into the service or join online through a webpage. Each participant chooses the platform most comfortable for them. Make sure that the phone number and web page stay consistent for easy use.
Give a reminder call. Church volunteer Barbara gives regular participants and homebound members a call before the phone services begin to remind them how to connect to the service.
Create a routine. Congregational worship is marked by reliable patterns of movements and words; so, too, are effective phone and online services. St. Mary Magdalene’s has made their prayer services feel comfortable, and given lay persons the ability to lead the service, through creating a special prayer booklet that contains prayers and order of liturgy for the service (and make sure to create large print versions, as well).
Digital is not a replacement for in-person connection, it is an additional tool for ministry and relationship building. St. Mary Magdalene makes sure that Zoom prayer service participants remain connected to the congregation through in-person visits and pastoral care.
Seabury is here to support you as you develop ministries with and for older adults in your congregation. Contact Seabury Congregational Resources Coordinator, Elizabeth Boyd at email@example.com.