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Older-adult ministry leaders hear call to expand table

Bishop Violet L. Fisher addresses conference leaders of older adult ministries at a symposium held Aug. 16-18 at Scarritt-Bennett Center in Nashville, Tenn. The event was sponsored by the United Methodist Board of Discipleship.
UMNS photos by Jeanette Pinkston.

By Jeanette Pinkston*
Aug. 23, 2007 |  NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)

The Rev. Vance P. Ross offers a prayer during the opening worship service.

A United Methodist bishop has challenged leaders of the church's older adult ministries to be more inclusive in inviting people to Christ's table.

"You are responsible for expanding the table and opening up the table," said Bishop Violet L. Fisher, who leads The United Methodist Church's New York West Area.

Fisher spoke to more than 100 people representing 41 annual (regional) conferences during the United Methodist Board of Discipleship's Symposium for Leaders of Conference Councils on Older Adult Ministries, held Aug. 16-18 at Scarritt-Bennett Center.

The United Methodist Committee on Older Adult Ministries sponsored the three-day symposium, which included a variety of workshops led by committee leaders.

Workshop topics included "Cultural Understandings for Older Adults," "How to Establish Older Adult Ministries in Congregations," "Global Aging Issues" and several others.

In addition, representatives to the Committee on Older Adult Ministries from United Methodist boards and agencies served on a panel discussion about their agency's work with and resources for older adult ministries.

Hearers of the word

Delivering the opening worship sermon, the Rev. Vance P. Ross preached on "The Great Redemption: Memory and Imagination," using John 3:16 as the text.

"We have folk functioning with no memory and no imagination," said Ross, a staff executive with the Board of Discipleship.

"Have you visited a nursing home lately? They (older adults) have been cast aside. We have forgotten them. They sit in living mausoleums," he said.

Ross challenged participants to "take whatever you get here, take it back and do something with it. Just being hearers of the word is over."

Leadership award

The Rev. Elbert Cole received the Outstanding Leadership Award for his many years of service to older adults in The United Methodist Church. 

The Rev. Elbert Cole receives the Outstanding Leadership Award, presented by the Rev. Richard H. Gentzler Jr.

The award was presented by Hazel Bennett, chairperson of the Committee on Older Adult Ministries, and the Rev. Richard H. Gentzler Jr., director of the Center on Aging and Older Adult Ministries for the United Methodist Board of Discipleship.

"Throughout his life and at least most of his ministry since 1972 at Central United Methodist Church in Kansas City, Mo., this man’s vision — the Shepherd Centers and the whole idea about being in ministry with older adults — has blessed older adults in The United Methodist Church and older adults in our country," Gentzler said.

Cole was the founder, former president and chief executive officer of Shepherd Centers of America, which provide day programs and community for older adults. He was pastor of Central United Methodist Church, Kansas City, Mo., when the first Shepherd Center was started. He has also served the National Council of Churches, the American Society on Aging and the National Interfaith Coalition on Aging.

'Is the table big enough?'

The symposium concluded with Bishop Fisher preaching the closing worship and Communion service. She used Luke 14, in which Jesus cautions people attending a big dinner against trying to sit near the head table and also advises his host not to invite his rich friends, relatives and rich neighbors to dinner but to invite instead the poor, the lame and the blind.

"I am concerned, my friends, because Jesus said the next time you prepare a feast, (the next time) you prepare a meal, go out and bring folk in — folk who would not ordinarily be a part of your table fellowship."

She challenged the group to ask the questions: Is the table open to racial-ethnic persons?

Is it open for spouses and families of folk who are incarcerated? Is it open for folk who are challenged in some way? Is the table open for youth and children? Is the table big enough?

"I keep praying, 'Lord help me.' Is the table big enough for those in the margins of life?"

*Pinkston is director of media relations for the United Methodist Board of Discipleship.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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