Forging their own way
Boomers seeking to nourish their souls have participated in Hurricane Katrina relief and in humanitarian projects abroad. Short-term missions allow those with full- or part-time employment to immerse themselves in charitable causes for a week or two at a time.
"They are committed to helping change the world," says the Rev. Karyn Wiseman, assistant professor at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. Engaging in missions "means something more than packing up a box of canned goods" and donating to a local pantry.
Cecilia Brannon, 61, has served in Liberia, Kenya, Uganda, Turkey, Thailand, Singapore, Belize and Honduras. Along with members of Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas, she remodeled and painted an old house that became the administrative building for a Christian school in Liberia. They taught in the classroom and wrote an elementary Bible curriculum. "I have always volunteered, but I did pick up the pace after retirement" in 2006, says Brannon, who oversaw the finances in her husband's civil engineering company.
Her generation wants to serve across the age continuum. "Isolating seniors creates a whole different dynamic. Baby boomers do not respond well to age-based groups," says the Rev. Pete Menconi, 67, outreach pastor at Greenwood Community Church, an Evangelical Presbyterian congregation in suburban Denver. With traditional older adult ministries, a common complaint is, "I don't want to be in a group with my mother. Boomers don't see themselves there at all," Menconi says.
Real and relevant messages
To welcome boomers, spiritual messages must be meaningful. "The older commercial, 'This isn't your father's Oldsmobile,' applies to boomers and their faith," says the Rev. Hal Lentz, 54, lead pastor for development and New Horizons, the senior adult ministry at the Baptist-affiliated Whittier Area Community Church in suburban Los Angeles.
"Many boomers came to faith as contemporary worship was being introduced in the church," Lentz says. "We strive to be relevant with how sermons are presented using YouTube, movie clips and video to illustrate key points."
Boomers dislike identifying "with anything that even implies old," says the Rev. Exa Grubb, 64, who works with senior adults at Dunwoody United Methodist Church near Atlanta. However, they do seek guidance in navigating health issues that surface in the later years. "As they see more of their peers succumbing to cancer, heart attacks, strokes, they are just now beginning to experience age-related health issues."
Medical concerns rise to the forefront when boomers' parents, who are living longer than previous generations, start to lose their independence. Declining health forced Dale Carter's 88-year-old mother into a continuing care retirement community. "We didn't start dealing with this until we hit our first crisis," Carter, 59, says of the reality that rattled her and a younger brother in 2008. "It wasn't even on our radar. My mother had been living on her own."
The experience led Carter to write Transitioning Your Aging Parent: A 5 Step Guide Through Crisis & Change. Realizing that her story rings true for those in similar predicaments, Carter's pastor invited her to speak at Trinity Evangelical Free Church in South Bend, Ind.