Older adults find comfort and companionship in spirituality

  • Thu Feb 23rd, 2012 9:54am
  • Life

By Jackson Holtz, Herald Writer

Rev. Rollin Carlson has learned during five decades of ministry that sometimes serving the Lord means meeting parishioners’ needs.

“Whatever need a person is feeling, we’re going to respond to that,” Carlson, 74, said. He’s a retired pastor at Bethany Christian Assembly in Everett. He helps run “The Young at Heart,” a ministry within the church that caters to people over 60. There’s even a subset of people over 90, Carlson said

Whether facing serious illness, coping after the death of a spouse or simply looking to join with other people your age, belonging to a faith community can provide resources, camaraderie and spiritual solace.

“The churches seem to have a bumper crop of older people,” said Greg Magnoni, a spokesman with the Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle. “Interest in living their faith fully is that much greater as well.”

Regardless of denomination, churches, synagogues and other houses of worship in Snohomish County open their doors to seniors, often making accommodations, hosting special activities, even creating separate services to make people feel welcome.

“These people in the older age bracket need to have some kind of resource and we try to help with that as best we can,” Carlson said.

That sometimes means holding prayer services during the day, meeting with parishioners at their homes or in the hospital or checking by phone daily to help them navigate a crisis.

“Every human being and every family sometime in their experience faces a trauma,” he said.

Being engaged with other people of faith can help individuals and families cope.

“The community in Judaism is central,” said Rabbi Jessica Marshall of Temple Beth Or in Everett.

Throughout the year, at weekly services or during special holidays, young and old congregants mingle.

Participating in temple activities are a “nice opportunity to connect to other generations in the community,” she said.

Ancient commentary and texts also provide some sign posts to help navigate the complicated questions.

“There’s a lot of richness there seniors and older adults can draw on for guidance,” the rabbi said.

For example, the Jewish tradition invites families to gather with the community on the anniversary of a loved one’s death.

Mourners stand in the synagogue to observe the Yahrzeit. Sharing grief with others adds meaning, Marshall said.

“It’s so much more healthy for our mental and spiritual well-being as well,” she said.

Some people, including one avowed atheist, find religion and spiritual community only when faced with end-of-life issues, said Rev. Bill VanDerMerwe, 79, a pastor for seniors at Westgate Chapel in Edmonds.

An elderly man had invited VanDerMerwe into his home several times, but refused to pray.

Then, as cancer started to ravage his body, he asked for spiritual assurance.

During a visit, the pastor heard water running.

“He took the initiative and said he wanted to be baptized,” VanDerMerwe said.

Westgate Chapel offers an alternative, more traditional Sunday morning service that many seniors choose to attend.

People who belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have several opportunities to perform church work later in life, said Ashley Wiltbank, a spokeswoman for the Mormon stake in Everett.

Seniors can go on missions to foreign lands or can help the community closer to home, she said.

“That’s a great way to keep them sharp and keep them learning,” Wiltbank said.

Being a Mormon also allows for friends to discuss some of life’s more difficult questions.

There’s almost always someone to talk with, which can uplift the spirit and bring someone closer to God.

It’s a gift to provide that comfort, she said.

“Anyway that helps a person feel comfortable and really feels the love of the Savior and allay their fears,” is good, Wiltbank said.