1985 Church of the Brethren Statement

(With a Focus on Older Adults)


AGING, the living out of that gift,

is a life-long experience.

AGING is an interrelated process

involving social, spiritual,

psychological, and

biological dimensions.

The Church of the Brethren

—discerns the uniqueness of each individualin the aging process;

—desires to raise the consciousness of all personsregarding both opportunities and dilemmasthat are present for older personsin the church and in society;

—envisions the church as a nurturing, supportive communitywhich regards older persons as growing,learning, and contributing members offamily, church, and society.

The Current Situation

We are keenly aware that the proportion of the United States population age 65 and over is growing from the current 11 percent to a projected 20 percent by the year 2030; moreover, women in their 60s outnumber men by 10 to 7, and at the age of 80 by 2 to 1. One Church of the Brethren study indicates that 37 percent of its members are 55 and over. Further, for the first time in history this nation is a four, and even five, generation society. The nuclear family of father, mother and children is but one primary relational unit among others.

Evaluating the various social and environmental needs of older persons, we are confronted with some basic realities.

While some are financially secure, too many are disadvantaged.

While some have comfortable housing, too many have limited housing options.

While some feel secure, too many fear crime, abuse or neglect.

While some are in good health, too many know only poor health.

While some receive adequate medical services, too many are deprived.

While some enjoy nutritional diets, too many suffer from malnutrition.

While some are surrounded by the care of family, too many are abandoned.

Among older persons, a disproportionate number of women experience long-term exposure to financial, housing, and companionship problems.

We Deplore Attitudes Which Devalue Older Persons

—misinformation perpetuated in myths and stereotypes about older persons in a youth-oriented society (such as, all older persons are sick, poor, and disoriented).

—oppressive systems that exploit persons because of the combinations of age, sex, and race.

We Raise Ethical Concerns

—that, within the context of stewardship and community,choice consistent with the teachings of Jesus Christ and as interpreted by the Church of the Brethren be present in every phase of the life cycle . . .

—in options related to longevity and quality of life;

—in decisions regarding limits in medical devices for prolonging life;

—in alternatives that provide companionship and intimacy rather than isolation and loneliness;

—in matters regarding one’s own death.

—that our decisions enhance, rather than oppress, and bring blessing to every phase of life’s development.

An Affirmation of Faith

We believe:

Life is a gift of God’s creation with a unity of social, spiritual, psychological, and biological functions (Gen. 1:27; Matt. 22:37-38).

The Bible affirms the aging process as a fact of life and gives honor to wisdom and long life (Exod. 20:12, Prov. 20:29).

The scriptures recognize infirmities which accompany old age (Gen. 48:10; Psa. 39:9-10; Psa. 31:12; and Psa. 38:6-8,11).

The later years are a time for spiritual growth and maturation (2 Cor. 4:16-18).

The aging process ideally takes place within the context of community where “no one stands alone” (Rom. 12:4-12).

The Caring Church Nurtures Older Persons

We believe the congregation, as a community of faith, has unique opportunity to help persons of all ages cope with life-changing experiences. Thus, we:

—affirm the importance of caring efforts expressed in person-to-person fashion, with the accent upon inclusion of older adults in the total life of the church;

—hold that a caring church will provide opportunity for facing adaptations to aging, including coping with death and other causes of grief;

—contend that a caring church will provide for and promote a range of service ministries which accent the wholistic approach to meeting needs;

—believe that a caring church will work cooperatively with existing community resources to enhance quality life for older persons.

Planning and Preparing for Older Years

We believe that planning is essential to a meaningful life in older adulthood. Therefore, we:

—contend that learning, work, and leisure are possible and desirable throughout life;

—recognize the value of work but hold forth the importance of refocusing from employment to self-determined activities as a way of pursuing meaningful personal goals;

—acknowledge the importance of early planning around decisions related to, but not limited to, financial situation, housing, and education.

—uphold attention being given to living arrangement options that include independent living in the community, shared housing in the community, and the range of services provided by retirement centers.

Goals For Ministry With The Aging

We have defined significant concerns regarding the life circumstances of aging persons. Purposeful action is in order. Therefore, the church of the brethren in all areas of life (individuals, families, congregations, districts, general board, camps, colleges and seminary, homes and hospitals) is called to:

1. Develop biblical and theological understandings of life as a process of growth and change, the foundation for a holistic ministry with the aging.

2. Become aware of the holistic nature of health needs among aging persons and become providers of and advocates for health care which meets physical, psychological, social, and spiritual needs.

3. Create and implement a variety of educational opportunities designed to sensitize persons of all ages to the issues of aging.

4. Offer caring support and counseling services to persons in all phases of the aging process.

5. Encourage younger persons to make plans for life changes related to aging, such as retirement activities, post-retirement income, health maintenance, estate and benevolence planning.

6. Assist persons in selecting options and finding resources in such areas as housing, finances, medical facilities and counseling (legal and other).

7. Call forth the gifts and skills of older persons, enabling their continuing involvement and meaningful participation in the total life of the church and the wider community.

8. Assist older persons and individuals who work with them in the continued development of life skills such as listening, assertiveness, and empathy.

9. Challenge and support older persons to make a prophetic witness in global, peace, and justice areas.

10. Discover and identify those persons who model wholeness and maturity in the aging process (such as courage and grace in infirmity), and share their stories.

11. Confront the varied medical and ethical issues related to aging in order to assist and be supportive of persons in making appropriate decisions based on Christian values.

12. Encourage involvement in discussions regarding life’s end which prepare individuals to face death with sustaining hope and a sense of peace.

13. Bridge barriers by promoting the concept of interdependence in intergenerational and community relationships.

14. Confront structures that devalue and oppress persons because of the combinations of ages, sex, and race.

15. Establish linkages and networks related to aging concerns among Church of the Brethren agencies and institutions, and with other community service organizations in both the public and private sector.

16. Recruit persons with special gifts and provide adequate educational opportunities through college, seminary, and other institutions to equip persons for specialized ministries with older persons.

The Brethren Health and Welfare Association will assume responsibility for implementation of these goals with accountability to the Parish Ministries Commission of the General Board.

Church of the Brethren Task Force on Aging, appointed by the Brethren Health and Welfare Association: Leah Zuck, Chairperson; Warren Eshbach; Dorothy Keller; Lois Snader Kelley; Harvey S. Kline; Larry Landes; Raymond R. Peters; Hazel Peters, Secretary; and Jay Gibble, General Board Staff.

Action of the General Board, March 1985

Voted that the General Board approve the Church of the Brethren Statement on Aging; and that the statement be recommended for adoption by the 1985 Annual Conference through the Standing Committee, with responsibility for implementation assigned to the Brethren Health and Welfare Association with accountability to the Parish Ministries Commission of the General Board.

Elaine Sollenberger, Chair
Robert W. Neff, General Secretary

Action of 1985 Annual Conference

Galen E. Fike, a Standing Committee delegate from the West Marva District, presented the recommendation from Standing Committee. The recommendation that Annual Conference adopt the Church Of The Brethren Statement On Aging, with the responsibility for implementation assigned to the Brethren Health and Welfare Association with accountability to the Parish Ministries Commission of the General Board, was adopted with one “friendly amendment” which has been incorporated in the preceding wording of the statement.